Description: This dissertation discusses the complicated relationship (known as the comitatus) of kings and followers as presented in the heroic poetry of the Anglo-Saxons. The anonymous poets of the age celebrated the ideals of their culture but consistently portrayed the real behavior of the characters within their works. Other studies have examined the ideals of the comitatus in general terms while referring to the poetry as a body of work, or they have discussed them in particular terms while referring to one or two poems in detail. This study is both broader and deeper in scope than are the earlier works. In a number of poems I have identified the heroic ideals and examined the poetic treatment of those ideals. In order to establish the necessary background, Chapter I reviews the historical sources, such as Tacitus, Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the work of modern historians. Chapter II discusses such attributes of the king as wisdom, courage, and generosity. Chapter III examines the role of aristocratic women within the society. Chapter IV describes the proper behavior of followers, primarily their loyalty in return for treasures earlier bestowed. Chapter V discusses perversions and failures of the ideal. The dissertation concludes that, contrary to the view that Anglo-Saxon literature idealized the culture, the poets presented a reasonably realistic picture of their age. Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry celebrates ideals of behavior which, even when they can be attained, are not successful in the real world of political life.
Date: May 1989
Creator: Nelson, Nancy Susan
Item Type: Thesis or Dissertation