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Aspiration Friday – Old English

3rd May 2019

Last Friday, Dr Rachel Burns from the University of Oxford came to talk to us about Old English.

She explained that Old English was the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons, who migrated to England in the fifth century, and became the dominant population until the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Rachel gave us a brief bit of backstory to the Anglo-Saxon period before telling us about the four main types of Old English literature: elegies (laments/complaints), riddles, epic poetry, and religious texts.  She showed us an example of an elegy, ‘The Wanderer’, in which the speaker complains about how glorious and heroic the past was, whilst now everything is in ruins.  She then played us a clip from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, showing the same poem being spoken by a character just before a climactic battle.  We then talked about how Old English has influenced lots of modern books and films – particularly ‘The Lord of the Rings’, as J R R Tolkien was a professor of Old English.

Finally, Rachel talked to us about how the Anglo-Saxons created their books, writing on parchment or vellum (sheep or goat skin).  She handed round some examples for us to touch – it was a bit weird seeing the animals’ hair follicles on the paper!

It was a really interesting talk that built on what students have learnt about the Anglo-Saxon period in Year 7 history, and I was delighted to see a student borrowing a copy of ‘Beowulf’, an Old English poem about heroes, monsters and dragons, at the end of the session. 

Miss L Clash

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