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History into Poetry ESSAY

The Battle of Maldon

“The Battle of Maldon” illustrates better than almost any other poem from the Anglo-Saxon period the Germanic comitatus in action. The primary virtues are loyalty, bravery, and obedience to a lord, along with the willingness to die for him even after the battle is lost. Although the English lose the battle, the poem shows them winning a moral victory. Except for a few who lose their courage and run away, most of the warriors remain loyal to their lord even after he has fallen. Many die trying to avenge him. There are few better illustrations of the Germanic ideal of warrior behavior. Indeed, the most famous lines of the poem focus on the courage of the warrior in the face of inevitable defeat and death: “Thought must be the harder, heart the keener/ Spirit shall be more–as our might lessens.”

After the battle of Brunanburh (937) the English and the Vikings fought over the kingdom of York, which changed hands several times. But after 954, twenty-six years of peace between the English and the Vikings passed. When the Vikings returned to invade England again in the 980s, they were more numerous and better organized. Olaf Tryggvason, a famous Norwegian Viking, attacked Kent and then sailed north to East Anglia, where he encountered a resolute ealdorman, Byrhtnoth, at Maldon. The battle between them took place in 991, when King Ethelred was on the English throne. The Viking invaders could have easily by-passed Maldon and carried on their raid elsewhere with the same effect. We would have lost, though, one of the finest pieces of Old English poetry, which seems to have been written by an eyewitness.

Visit the web site The Battle of Maldon. This is an excellent web resource with a helpful map of the battle site, an outline of the poem, the translated text divided into sections, notes, and background commentary. Study the poem in translation carefully, noting the scop’s use of poetic language, the historical background, and the site of the battle. At the web site Readings from Maldon you can hear some of the poem read in Old English.

The Anglo-Saxon Heroic Code: Essay Assignment

In a short essay, discuss how the presentation of Anglo-Saxon culture and the heroic code in “The Battle of Maldon” both resembles and differs from the presentations in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Germania. A successful essay will be illustrated with passages from the poems and the historical texts. Remember to consider the scop’s use of poetic language, use of dialogue, and development of character as evidences of cultural values as well as the content of the poem.

See the following rubric:

Indicator/Point Value


Instructor Comments

Indicator: Essay fully addresses the prompt and demonstrates an understanding of the poems’ similarities and differences.

Point Value: 35

  • Essay provides details explaining how Anglo-Saxon culture and the heroic code are similar in “The Battle of Maldon”, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and Germania.
  • Essay provides details explaining how Anglo-Saxon culture and the heroic code are different in “The Battle of Maldon”, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and Germania.
  • Textual evidence is used from “The Battle of Maldon”, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Germania, and historical texts to support claims about similarities and differences.
  • Similarities and differences address poetic language, use of dialogue, and development of character in addition to cultural values.

Indicator: Essay is properly structured and demonstrates a mastery of the research process

Point Value: 35

  • Essay contains a clear introduction that introduces the names of the texts, the authors of the texts, a one-sentence summary of the type of writing included, and a clear thesis.
  • Introduction is written as though the audience has not read the book before.
  • Thesis statement makes an argumentative assertion about the topic.
  • Thesis statement states the conclusions you have reached about your topic.
  • Thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper.
  • Thesis statement is focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper.
  • Thesis statement identifies the relationship between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.
  • Body paragraphs support the thesis.
  • Body paragraphs begin with a strong transitional phrase and use textual evidence to support the thesis.
  • Body paragraphs avoid simple summary and use the textual evidence for analysis.
  • The conclusion paragraph summarizes the major points outlined in the essay and re-affirms the thesis statement from the introduction.
  • Essay uses in-text citations appropriately
  • In-text citations are formatted according to MLA format

Indicator: Essay maintains correct formatting.

Point Value: 15

  • 12-point Arial or Times New Roman font
  • Double spaced
  • One inch margins
  • Essay is in MLA format
  • Works Cited page is included in MLA format

Indicator: Essay demonstrates correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Point Value: 15

  • Writing is free of spelling or word use errors.
  • Writing is free of run-on sentences or sentence fragments.
  • All punctuation is used appropriately.
  • All proper nouns and the beginnings of sentences are capitalized appropriately.
  • All other standard English grammar, punctuation, and spelling rules are followed.
  • Sentences vary in structure between simple, complex, compound, and complex-compound structures.
  • Fully developed paragraphs have a minimum of four – five sentences each.
  • Formal academic voice used (no first person or contractions used)
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