Maxims (Old English) (830 words)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay


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Maxims are sententious generalisations: that is, they aim at being true in relation to the concepts and categories about which they are expressed. We recognise Wiglaf’s maxim in the Old English Beowulf, “death is better for every nobleman than a life of shame”, as an expression of the Anglo-Saxon heroic code of honour. It is “true” despite the fact that a number of warriors in the narrative context have run away from supporting Beowulf and fighting a dragon. And interestingly, the dragon of Beowulf makes “true” the maxim that appears in the poem Maxims II, that “a dragon belongs in a burial mound, old and proud of its treasures”. While the two expressions deal with very different spheres of life t…

Cavill, Paul. "Maxims (Old English)". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 20 September 2002
[, accessed 26 October 2016.]

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  1. Literary Genres and Modes