Old English literature
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Old English literature encompasses literature written in Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon), during the 600-year Anglo-Saxon period of England, from the mid-5th century to the Norman Conquest of 1066. These works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period, a significant corpus of both popular interest and specialist research.
Among the most important works of this period is the poem Beowulf, which has achieved national epic status in Britain. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle otherwise proves significant to study of the era, preserving a chronology of early English history, while the poem Cædmon's Hymn from the 7th century survives as the oldest extant work of literature in English.
Anglo-Saxon literature has gone through different periods of research—in the 19th and early 20th centuries the focus was on the Germanic roots of English, later the literary merits were emphasized, and today the focus is upon paleography and the physical manuscripts themselves more generally: scholars debate such issues as dating, place of origin, authorship, and the connections between Anglo-Saxon culture and the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages.