What have the Anglo-Saxons ever done for us?

It has been a while since I’ve considered the vexed question of Byrhtnoth’s ‘ofermod’. More than 30 years, in fact. I remember, as if it were yesterday, my Anglo-Saxon tutorials with dear, lovely, gentle Richard Hamer. And now he is the author of the standard translation being used by my children on their own university English Literature courses. (I suppose the Latin equivalent would be having been taught by the author of Kennedy’s ‘Eating’ Primer.)

Byrhtnoth’s ‘ofermod’ is the pivotal word in ‘The Battle of Maldon’, a 325-line fragment of Old English poetry about an otherwise obscure skirmish between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, and much studied on English courses because it’s one of very few surviving examples of our island’s nascent literature.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

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