A History of English Literature

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from Austria to Iceland, has a common form, technique and formulaic repertoire.
Oral poetry was an art which had evolved over generations: an art of memorable
speech. It dealt with a set of heroic and narrative themes in a common metrical
form, and had evolved to a point where its audience appreciated a richly varied style
and storytelling technique. In these technical respects, as well as in its heroic pre-
occupations, the first English poetry resembles Homeric poetry. As written versions
of compositions that were originally oral, these poems are of the same kind as the
poems of Homer, albeit less monumental and less central to later literature.
Just as the orally composed poetry of the Anglo-Saxons was an established art, so
the Roman missionaries were highly literate. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the
English People makes it clear that the evangelists sent by Pope Gregory in 597 to
bring the gospel (godspel, ‘good news’) to the Angles were an élite group. Augustine


Places of note in Old and Middle English Literature

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