Dante and Medieval Romanticism

  • Simon Haines


One of Northern Europe’s first great poems is set in Scandinavia at around the time of Boethius. It was composed orally in eighth-century Northumbria or Mercia, in that small oasis of civilisation presided over by Bede, and only written down in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English of Wessex at around the turn of the millennium, a century or so before the birth of Abelard. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that outside Old English and Old Norse, and pockets of monastic Latin, there was no other literary tradition in Europe during this long period. In Chaucer, perhaps, English poetry was reborn, but with the writing down of Beowulf it was born. These claims may appear excessive. After all, did Chaucer’s contemporaries not include William Langland, the Piers Plowman poet; John Wycliffe, the first great translator of the Bible into English; and the many creators of those rich cycles of morality and miracle plays, of dream visions and romances, which constituted the English language’s contribution, culminating eventually in Malory and Spenser, to that European romance heritage with which this chapter is chiefly concerned, and which was itself reborn in La Chanson de Roland just after Beowulf was written down? Back on the other side of the Norman watershed, was the Beowulf era not also that of Alfred, Bede himself, Cædmon, The Dream of the Rood and The Battle of Maldon? Yes: and the Iliad itself must surely have been not just accompanied but enabled by other poems.


Moral Concept English Poetry Fixed Concept Divine Comedy Courtly Love 
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Copyright information

© Simon Haines 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Haines
    • 1
  1. 1.Australian National UniversityAustralia

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