Click here for some notes and a basic
outline of the archetypal hero quest.
The Ancient and Classical World , a web site by Prof. Joyce A. Miller at Collins County Community College in Texas. Also, check out Prof. Miller's home page--there is quite a bit of interesting material there.
Click HERE for a link to a page that contains links to purchase texts related to World Literature.
Click here for a link to an excellent discussion called "The Origins of Storytelling."
From The Epic of Gilgamesh:
Photograph of a fragment of Tablet XI, the "Flood Tablet", inscribed in Assyrian cuneiform characters. The detail isn't great, but you can get an idea of what the "manuscript" of this ancient epic looks like.
Click here for a link to a discussion about the Homeric Papyri at the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University.
Homer, Odyssey 1, 289-312 (P.Duk.inv. 768 R)
La Chanson de Roland is the oldest surviving work in Old French. It is a chanson de geste. It is based on the real-life events of Charlemagne's (Charles the Great) battle with the Muslims and the famous Battle of Roncevalles in 778.
for a good study guide to The Song of Roland from Diane
Thompson at Northern Virginia Community College.
Want to know what happened in the rest of The Song of Roland? Click here for Laissez 162-233.
Click here for Laissez 234-end.
Click here for more Song of Roland resources courtesy of Professor Joanne Viano of the University of Pittsburgh.
'The death of Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux, from an illustrated manuscript, 1455–1460" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mort_de_Roland.jpg).
Click here for John Crocker's Arabian Nights Resouce Centre.
Shahnameh is the Persian Book of Kings. It is an epic that spans many generations and is the history of pre-Muslim Persia, what is now Iran. Persia became officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1935.
Like many other epics, Shahnameh has inspired the work of many artists. Here is a page about the comic book series based on The Persian Book of Kings.
Here is a site dedicated to the Shahnameh. Here is an introduction to the epic. Here are some illustrations from Shahnameh.
Here is an article about the Persian Book of Kings.
Here is a page of Persian art. Here is a page of ancient Persian rug images.
Here is an image of one of the full-texts of the work. Notice the detailed artwork--even the background is highly decorated. Each of the motifs means something, just as they do in Persian rugs:
Here is the Wikipedia page on Pesian art, which explains some of the motifs in the art and why those motifs are important.
"There is no record of any religious drama in England previous to the Norman Conquest. About the beginning of the twelfth century we hear of a play of St. Catharine performed at Dunstable by Geoffroy, later abbot of St. Albans, and a passage in Fitzstephen's "Life of Becket" shows that such plays were common in London about 1170. These were evidently "miracle plays",though for England the distinction between miracles and mysteries is of no importance, all religious plays being called "miracles". Of miracle plays in the strict sense of the word nothing is preserved in English literature. The earliest religious plays were undoubtedly in Latin and French. The oldest extant miracle in English is the "Harrowing of Hell" (thirteenth century). Its subject is the apocryphal descent of Christ to the hell of the damned, and it belongs to the cycle of Easter-plays. From the fourteenth century dates the play of "Abraham and Isaac". A great impetus was again given to the religious drama in England as elsewhere by the institution of the festival of Corpus Christi (1264; generally observed since 1311) with its solemn processions. Presently the Eastern and Christmas cycles were joined into one great cycle representing the whole course of sacred history from the Creation to the Last Judgment. Thus arose the four great cycles still extant and known as the Towneley, Chester, York, and Coventry plays, the last three designated from the place of their performance. The Towneley mysteries owe their name to the fact that the single manuscript in which they are preserved was long in the possession of the Towneley family. They were performed, it seems, at Woodkirk, near Wakefield. These cycles are very heterogeneous in character, the plays being by different authors. In their present form the number of plays in the cycles is: Towneley 30 (or 31), Chester 24, York 48 Coventry 42. Four other plays are also preserved in the Digby codex at Oxford. The so called "moralities" (q. v.) are a later offshoot of the "miracles". These aim at the inculcation of ethical truths and the dramatis personae are abstract personifications, such as Virtue, Justice, the Seven Deadly Sins, etc. The character called "the Vice" is especially interesting as being the precursor of Shakespeare's fool. After the Reformation the miracle plays declined, though performances in some places are on record as late as the seventeenth century."
Click here for an image of Hieronymous Bosch's painting entitled The Last Judgement. Click here for Bosch's Paradise and Hell.Click here for Columbia University's page entitled Digital Dante.
Beowulf is one of the most important pieces of literature in English. It is the oldest stry written in Old English, the Germanic language that would evolve into modern English. The story of Beowulf is related to the Norse sagas in several ways: there are snippets of the well-known Norse stories throughout Beowulf.In addition, many believe that the story has its basis in truth--that is, a real man named Hrothgar lived.
Beowulf is a precious example of Old English because it is extant in only one manuscript--Cotton Vitellius A.xv, aka the Nowell Codex. Also contained in the Nowell Codex is a piece of the biblical story called Judith and several other stories that relate to saints or to wonders of the East. That the manuscript still exists is something of a miracle, given that it first survived the destruction of religious artifacts during the reign of Henry VIII and then survived the disastrous fire of the Cotton library in 1731. Many scholars are still involved in active scholarship concerningBeowulf, not least of which is the seemingly never-ending debate about the dating of the story. Some scholars believe that the story was composed at the same time it was written down, which is in the first part of the 11th century. Others date the story to a much earlier date--some say it was compoased as early as 700. Kevin Kiernan's book called Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript is a very interesting discussion of the topic. The manuscript resides in the British Library, where a few leaves are on display in the main public display on the second floor.
Sutton Hoo is an ancient burial site in England which contained artifacts that are said to be from the time of Beowulf's story. Here is the National Trust's site dedicated to Sutton Hoo.
Helmet recovered fromthe Sutton Hoo burial site (http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/h/helmet_from_the_ship-burial_at.aspx). The artifacts from Sutton Hoo are housed in the British Museum.
Here is a sample of Old English vs. Modern English.
Beowulf Verse Indeterminate Saxon
Old English Modern English translation
Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
5 monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra
10 ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning!
ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned,
geong in geardum, þone god sende
folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat
15 þe hie ær drugon aldorlease
lange hwile. Him þæs liffrea,
wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf;
Beowulf wæs breme (blæd wide sprang),
Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.
20 Swa sceal geong guma gode gewyrcean,
fromum feohgiftum on fæder bearme,
þæt hine on ylde eft gewunigen
wilgesiþas, þonne wig cume,
leode gelæsten; lofdædum sceal
25 in mægþa gehwære man geþeon.
|LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!
To him an heir was afterward born,
a son in his halls, whom heaven sent
to favor the folk, feeling their woe
that erst they had lacked an earl for leader
so long a while; the Lord endowed him,
the Wielder of Wonder, with world's renown.
Famed was this Beowulf: far flew the boast of him,
son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.
So becomes it a youth to quit him well
with his father's friends, by fee and gift,
that to aid him, aged, in after days,
come warriors willing, should war draw nigh,
liegemen loyal: by lauded deeds
shall an earl have honor in every clan.
You might be able to see some words that at least sound familiar
(waes=was; faeder=father; paet=that). Compare this to the pages
the Chaucer manuscript in Middle English listed below.
Click here for a link
to the Electronic Beowulf Project hosted by the University of Kentucky
the British Library. There are photos of the only surviving
and articles about restoration of the manuscript at this site.
Click here for an audio of Ben Slade reading Beowulf in Old English
Another work of major importance in the Old English period is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It exists in several manuscripts and chronicles the history of Britain from biblical times to about 1154.
The first page of the Peterborough Chronicle, the most up to date of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. It resides in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, UK.
Chaucer and his horse from the Ellesmere MS, Huntington Library, Berkeley, California.
Chaucer is the father of English poetry. He was quite prolific and most of his works survive, though we have none in his hand. Recently, medieval scholar Linne Mooney traced a link between a poem Chaucer wrote to his scribe Adam and to a real scribe named Adam Pinkhurst. It turns out that Pinkhurst is the scribe who wrote the Ellesmere and Hengwrt manuscripts containing Chaucer's work. He is the closest link we have to Chaucer himself. Mooney's work was a major discovery and is very important to Chaucer scholars.
Here is the Luminarium page on Chaucer. We do a good bit about Chaucer's life, but much is still not known. He spent his days as a government employee in King Richard II's service and wrote at night.
Click here for photos of the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which dates from around 1410 and is considered by many to be the finest of the Chaucer manuscripts.
Here is a picture of the "Wife of Bath" from the Ellesmere MS.
Iceland lies between Greenland and Norway, with Great Britain to the southeast. A good portion of the island contains glaciers. In the time of the writing of the great Icelandic sagas, the climate in Iceland was warmer and more amenable to farming. People migrated from Scandinavia to Iceland because of its rich farmland. At the same time, Scandinavians had been settled in Great Britain for hundreds of years and had established areas of the island set aside as theirs. These areas were called the Danelaw.
"Earth covered farm homes in Keldur, Iceland. These were built in 1193, and are supposedly the oldest buildings in Iceland" (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iceland_Keldur_Earth_covered_homes.JPG). These houses were built at the time that the Volsunga Saga was being written down.
The Volsunga Saga is one of the classics of Icelandic literature. It has influenced many artists, not least of which were Tolkien and Wagner.
Here is the Timelessmyths.com site that has discussions of the story and its characters.
Here is the genealogical chart of the Volsungs. Here is another page that contains great information about the Norse and Icelandic mythologies and sagas.
Painting of a Valkyrie with her horse by Basil Poledouris (http://www.runewebvitki.com/poetry.html).
Here is a page that discusses Norse heroes. Essential to many of the Icelandic and Norse sagas are the Valkyries. The Valkyries were women in the service of Odin. Theyescorted the dead heroes from the battlefield to Valhalla, Odin's hall, where they battled each other all day and feasted all night. The worst thing that could happen to a warrior was that he would not die honorably in battle. In order to be taken to Valhalla, he had to have his weapon in hand. In many of the stories, heroes were allowed to pick up their weapons before they were killed so that they could enter the halls of Valhalla. Here is another good site about the Valkyries and Norse and Icelandic poetry.
Odin is one of the chief gods in Norse mythology. His horse, Sleipnir, has eight legs.
Like Greek and Roman mythology, Norse mythology has many stories about the gods and goddesses and explanations of natural phenomena.
Closely related to the Volsunga Saga is the Niebelungenlied, a work in Middle High German that contains many parallels to the Volsunga Saga. Wagner used the Niebelungenleid and The Volsungasaga as sources for his masterpiece Der Ring des Niebelungs. Here is the Wikipedia article on the Niebelungleid, which is well-documented and researched.
Another famous Icelandic saga is Njal's Saga. Here is a well-researched and documented Wikipedia page on the story.
Runes are mentioned throughout The Volsungasaga. Runes are an ancient alphabet and are found on many stones and carvings from the Middle Ages. Here is a link to Omniglot, a website dedicated to writing systems.
Here is the PBS.org link to the documentary The Vikings.
Images from the first page of the manuscript, an illumination of Lady Bertilak tempting Gawain, and Gawain's meeting with the Green Knight.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (SGGK) is another very special text because it is extant in one manuscript only--Cotton Nero A.x. The manuscript contains four works--Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and SGGK. The Wikipedia entry for SGGK is well-researched and documented. The work is a Middle English alliterative romance from the West-Midlands of England. Like the Beowulf manuscript, the Gawain manuscript resides in the British Library.
Here is the Gawain page at Luminarium, an important scholarly website for medievalists. Another important scholarly site for medievalists is The Camelot Project. Here is its entry on Gawain. Gawain has a rich literary history in the Arthurian cycle. His story in SGGK is related to, but very separate from, the Arthurian stories. In others, Gawain is one of the knights on the quest for the Grail. In some stories, he is the knight who achieves the Grail. In the older tradition, it is Galahad or Perceval who achieve the Grail.
SGGK was written by an anonymous author, most often referred to as either the Pearl-poet or the Gawain-poet. Here is a good page that contains many links to information about the work and the others in the manuscript
Take a tour through the Renaissance with the Annenberg/CPB Project . This one's definitely worth the time!