In between rolling translations of Anglo-Saxon chronicles, poems, histories, M.C.D. Drout hawks 566 years of kings, pirates, popes, monks, wars, buildings and battles. But most and first of all, he hooks us with language, giving us bits of Anglo-Saxon poems, lists of Old English words (some, siton, foton), Old English websites, including kingalfred.com, where he has written a free Anglo Saxon grammar called “King Alfred’s Grammar” named after his (and soon to be yours) best and biggest hero : King Alfred; and anglosaxon.com where he serves up his recordings of the entire corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Whew!
Then he gives us, cut up into nice round 100 year sizes, the history of a “people who lived in a place full of Celtic place-names, surrounded by Roman ruins, bringing with them Germanic legends, and building Christian Churches”. Organized by the MaCGyVr principle, it is a history of 6 ages: Migration, Conversion, Golden, Viking, Reform and Fall.
Throughout, he tells us marvelous stories of the marvelous, noting what historians know, what they fight about, what they hate each other for, and how to read historical interpretations as interpretations, how to consider what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how to fall in love with the material of Anglo-Saxon history, its indeterminacy, its scarcity, its ongoing reconstruction.
In between he does stand-up:
Jefferson came up with the idea that the front of the [great] seal should have a picture of Hengist and Horsa …. and that the backside of the seal … would picture Pharoah, sitting in a chariot, as he road through the parted red sea … with the Israelites on the other side, following the pillar of fire that led them to the promised land. You know, I have to say, the eagle was probably the safe way to go here….