Dating the composition of individual Old English poems is a particularly vexing problem for scholars seeking to interpret historical trends and events from the poetic materials. , variously dated from the seventh century to the eleventh, provides only the most notorious example of the fluidity in dating to which Old English poetry is subject. For all but a handful of the poems, most notably and the poems, a wide span of time separates the earliest speculated date for their composition from the time they appeared in the written form that we have. In the absence of any firm consensus obtainable by traditional linguistic and metrical tools, however, we must give priority to the one fact that we do possess: that the four manuscripts which contain the lion’s share of Old English poems that we have are firmly datable by paleography to some time ranging from the late tenth century or to soon after the year 1000. Questions of original composition and oral transmission, or even whether there were pre-existing written exemplars, are ultimately less important than the seeming purpose in systematically compiling these poems in their existing forms as happened around the turn of the millennium. Based on this fact, therefore, Norman F. Blake argued radically but most cogently that the poems as we have them should be taken to be most reflective of the later phase of Anglo-Saxon history, and that they are products, at least as we have them, of a literary program of collection, translation, and composition having its origins in the Alfredian period, with aims both religious and political ("Dating"). D. A. Bullough and more recently David Dumville have demonstrated this program to have continued through the tenth century under King Alfred’s successors. Even , traditionally considered a product of the seventh or eighth century, fits well into this broad historical context of the late ninth to early eleventh century, Blake argued, whether as an example of court-centered heroic epic or even as part of a program of religious instruction ("Dating" 24). Other scholars have agreed; Colin Chase considered and Asser’s biography of Alfred the Great, written in the 890s, to have in common "an unresolved but balanced duality between heroic values and Christian piety" ("Saint’s Lives" 170). Such a perhaps uneasy but nevertheless fruitful wedding of the heroic and Christian indeed marks virtually the entire corpus of extant Old English poetry, which displays an ethos of Christian heroism well upon its trajectory of development. The heroism of the latest Old English poems, those commemorating current events of the tenth-century conflict against the heathen Vikings, is suffused with an aura of Christian martial piety which plainly foreshadows that of the age of the crusades commencing a century later.


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