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362 Study Questions: "The Battle of Maldon."


Vocabulary: hlaford, thegn, fame-shame culture, alliterative verse, Viking, danegeld, the Danelaw, hapax legomenon, compound, kenning

Character Identifications: Earl Birhtnoth of Essex, the Viking-herald, the sons of Odda (Godric, Godwine, and Godwig), Dunnere the "humble churl," Aescferth the hostage.

Introduction Questions: In what year did the historical Battle of Maldon take place? What two groups fought in this battle? Who won? How well trained werer the English forces? What famous fire damaged teh manuscript of The Battle of Maldon.

Reading Questions:

  • Why do you suppose Birhtnoth orders all the horses to be driven away?
  • Why does Offa's kinsman release his "beloved hawk" into the woods before the battle? (i.e., what does this suggest about this boy's attitude toward the coming battle?)
  • What do the Vikings demand in exchange for peace?
  • What is Bihrtnoth's general answer to this demand?
  • What natural or geographic features delay the initial conflict?
  • The poet suggests Bihrtnoth (out of "overconfidence") makes a strategic error whenthe Vikings are hemmed in by the water with only a small land-bridge to connect to the mainland. What error does Bihrtnoth make?
  • The poet says that Wulfmaer "chose the slaughter-bed." What does this kenning mean?
  • Edweard chamberlain strikes down a Viking warrior in front of Bihrtnoth and receives his praise. What is a chamberlain, and why is it surprising for a modern audience to find such a man engaged in battle?
  • When Bihrtnoth is first wounded with a spear, what does he do that enables him to continue fighting?
  • When Bihrtnoth is later fatally wounded, he looks somewhere and makes a long speech. To whom or to what is he talking?
  • What do Aelfnoth and Wulfmaer apparently do while Bihrtnoth is praying? (i.e., how do they die?
  • What shameful act do Odda's sons (Godric, Godwine, and Godwig) do after Bihrtnoth falls?
  • To compound the shame even more, Godric makes his escape using what?
  • After Bihrtnoth's death, various warriors make a series of a speeches encouraging each other to avenge their fallen lord or die fighting. How does he length of each speech parallel or correspond to the social rank of the speaker?
  • What does the kenning "slaughter-bed" probably refer to?
  • What does the kenning "life-house" reer to?
  • In his finalspeech, what does Birhtwold claim will happen as the band's "might" (numbers) decrease?

Lecture Questions:
What king did Earl Bihrtnoth serve? What was this king's historical epithet?

How young or old (generally speaking) must Birhtnoth have been, given the historical documents, when he led the local troops against the Vikings?

Discuss how our entire interpretation of Birhtnoth's actions depends on the meaning of a hapax legomenon, the adjective "ofermodig," a word your translator suggests means "overconfident."

Discuss the historical situation of England in relation to the Vikings in the ninth through the tenth centuries.

What is a shield-wall?

Passage Identifications:

A: . . . He rode about and advised them, taught the troops how they should stand and hold the place and bade them grasp their shields aright, firm in their hands, andhave no fear. When he had arranged his folk properly, he alighted among them where it seemed best to him, where he knew his retainers would be most loyal.

B: "Bold seamen have sent me to you, have commanded me to say to you that you must quickly send treasure in order to protect yourself; and it is better for you to buy off this spear-assault with tribute than to have us give you harsh war. There is no need for us to destroy one another, if you are rich enough to pay. With the gold we will confirm truce. If you that are highest here decide upon this, that you will ransom your people, and in return for peace give the seamen money in the amount they request . . . we will go to ship with the tribute, set sail on the sea,and keep peace with you."

C: . . . [He] raised his shield, his slender ash-spear, uttered words angry and resolute gave him answer: "Do you hear, seafarer, what this folk says? They will give you spears for tribute, poisoned point and old sword, heriot that avails you not in batle. Sea-wanderers' herald, take back our answer, speak to your people a message far more hateful, that here stands with his host an undisgraced earlw ho will defend this country, my lord Aethelred's homeland, folk, and land."

D: The coward son of Odda, Godric, has betrayed us all; when he rode off on that horse, on that proud steed, many a man thought that he was our lord. Therefore here on the field folk were dispersed, the shield-wall broken. Curses on his action, by which he caused so many men here to flee.

E: Then Dunnere spoke, shook his spear; humble churl, he cried over all, bade each warrior avenge Birhtnoth: "He who intends to avenge his lord on the folk may not hesitate nor care for life."

F: "Purpose shall be the firmer, heart the keener, courage shall be the more, as our might lessens. Here lies our lord all hewn down, good man on ground. Ever may he lament who now thinks to turn from war-play. I am old of life; from here I will not turn, but by my lord's side, by the man I loved, I intend to lie."

 

 

 

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