Poetry in Old English is Survived by Only Four Original Manuscripts

St Cuthbert Gospel

Old English, a defunct language of the medieval Anglo-Saxons which gave rose to modern English in Great Britain, is only survived by four original manuscripts. That alone seems remarkable and one would expect (hope) that plenty other written records from the settlers would have been kept somewhere until this day, and perhaps they might be, just hiding somewhere.

Josephine Livingstone has had the luxury of viewing these priceless books, which gives us a glimpse of a who we were, which can sometimes be unrecognisable to people today.

Josephine Livingstone over at The New Republic has written this interesting story about them:

They are: the Vercelli Book, which contains six poems, including the hallucinatory “Dream of the Rood”; the Junius Manuscript, which comprises four long religious poems; the Exeter Book, crammed with riddles and elegies; and the Beowulf Manuscript, whose name says it all. There is no way of knowing how many more poetic codices (the special term for these books) might have existed once upon a time, but have since been destroyed.
… the main attraction lay in a quiet little vitrine: all four Old English poetic codices, side by side. They don’t look that impressive to the casual eye. The exhibition room is dark and cold, to keep the books safe from damage. The manuscripts are brown, small, almost self-effacing. There’s no outward sign of how important they are, how unprecedented their meeting.

You cand find out more about these incredible books in this article.

Image: St. Cuthbert Gospel, British Library Board.