The Mead Hall: Feasting in Anglo-Saxon England Paperback – 9 Nov 2009
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Pollington has written and spoken widely on Anglo-Saxon language, literature, society, and culture. Here he describes feasting and society, the mead hall as living and ritual space, food and feasting equipment, positions of power, and entertainment. He includes a glossary with pronunciations, and sample depictions of feasting in Old English poems. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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While culling his evidence primarily from the wealth of A/S literature (which he translates himself), Pollington enhances his material with data derived from archeological finds. The accuracy of his presentation sets his book squarely in the history/anthropology section of one's library.
The book is an exploration of what these early Anglo-Saxon people were like and how the mead-hall was a reflection of their society. The book explains a Germanic culture and worldview in simple, concise and elegant terms with easily followed arguments. This is added to by a pleasing writing style.
Few books of late have left me feeling my time was so well spent after the reading.
It would be impossible to lay out everything there is to learn from this book. The only way to even approximate it is to simply give you a partial look at the table of contents, which in itself gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of work this book encompasses:
1. Feasting and Society
- A Window on Early English Society
- Feasting in the Hall
- Meals and Mealtimes
- Oaths and Boasts
- Feasts, Marriages and Alliances
2. Living Space: The Hall in Reality
- The Hall and its Settlement
- Construction & Layout
- Building Techniques
- Hall Development in Anglo-Saxon England
3. Ritual Space: The Hall in Ideology
- The Hall as the Ideal Dwelling
- The Joys of the Hall
4. Food and Feasting Equipment
- Drinking Vessels
- Cauldrons & Hanging Bowls
- Textiles & Clothing
- Female Dress
- Male Dress
- Table Linen, Tapestry & Embroidery
5. Positions of Power
- Lord (Hlaford)
- Lady (Hlafdige)
- Household (Hlafaetan)
- Flyting and Verbal Duelling
- Unferp and The Role of the Pyle
- Poet (Scop)
- Hall Attendants
- Storytelling & Poetry
- Harp or Lyre
- Board games
- Hall and Feasting Themes in Old English Verse
- Some Old English Sources
- The Structure and Origins of the Warband
In addition to the wealth of detail presented, Pollington writes in a eminently readable style that makes the information accessible to both the layman and the researcher. For example this bit from the section on gift-giving:
"Gift-giving was a central act in Germanic society, cementing the bonds among the free classes. It was neither random, spontaneous, nor purely emotional, but rather was strictly controlled by rules of reciprocation. Warlords handed out weapons to their followers, but the weapons were not 'given away', they were held by the hearth-troop to be used in defence of the leader.... Broadly speaking, when any man gave a gift he expected a return, a counter-gift. What form that return might take would depend on the relative social status of giver and recipient. A gift to a superior would be rewarded by favour; to an equal, by counter-gift; to an inferior, by service. The concept survives into our own times."
I learned an enormous amount from this book and found it a fascinating and enjoyable read as well. Highly, highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject.
The Mead-Hall covers just about any subject you might think of in regards to topic, including socio-political issues and customs, ritual aspects, food and feasting equipment, living space, entertainment, etc.
There is only one other work that I know of that covers the various aspects of the mead hall, and while good it isn't as thorough as this one is. For reference, it's titled Mead Halls of the Eastern Geats.
The book is hardcover and presents well. It features several diagrams and black and white pictures of archaeological finds.
All in all, this is a valued addition to my Anglo Saxon library.
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