When the BBC ran a poll in 2001 to name the greatest Briton, Alfred, a ninth-century monarch, was the only king to make the top 20. Also the only English sovereign to be called "the Great," Alfred used to be remembered as much through folklore as through his accomplishments.Horspool sees Alfred as inextricably linked to the legends and stories that surround him, and rather than attempting to separate the myth from the "reality," he explores how both came together to provide a historical figure that was all things to all men. This book offers a vivid picture of Alfred's England, but also of the way that history is written, and how much myth has had to do with that.
The Old English Boethius boldly refashions in Anglo-Saxon guise a great literary monument of the late-antique world, The Consolation of Philosophy. Condemned to death for treason around 525 ce, the Roman scholar Boethius turned to philosophy to transform his personal distress into a powerful meditation on fate, free will, and the human capacity for virtue in a flawed, fallen world. Boethius's Latin dialogues found a receptive audience in Anglo-Saxon England, where they were translated into Old English some time around 900. The translator (traditionally identified with King Alfred) freely adapts the Latin for a new audience: the Roman Fabricius, for example, becomes the Germanic weapon-smith Weland. The translation replicates Boethius’s alternation of prose and verse—only in this case Old English prose alternates with alliterative verse.In later centuries Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth each turned The Consolation of Philosophy into English, but the Old English translation was the first to bring it to a wider vernacular audience. Verse prologues and epilogues for works traditionally associated with King Alfred fill out the volume, offering readers a fascinating glimpse of the moment when English confidently claimed its birthright as a literature capable of anything, from sublime ideas to subtle poetry.
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