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Over Easy: Anglo-Saxons back in action?

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 5/7/2021 9:42:03 PM
Modified: 5/7/2021 9:41:59 PM

I was pretty stirred up recently when it was reported that U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her pals in Congress were about to form an America First Caucus that would, among other things, promote “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”

Anglo-Saxons? Make America Medieval Again. And raise the drawbridge.

Critics say Greene, the Georgia Republican who has conspiracies on her mind, was using Anglo-Saxon as a substitute for “white.” She denied it, blaming any misunderstanding on a staffer from an outside group.

And that’s why you should never outsource crackpot ideas.

Still, they had already opened the proverbial barn door. The horses of my imagination were racing ahead with Anglo-Saxon reverie. Maybe Greene hasn’t learned the lessons of history, but that needn’t stop us from revisiting its delights.

Best to start with “Anglo-Saxons and You,’’ or in this case, “Anglo-Saxons and Me.” Could I, as a person of mostly Irish genetic innards, be one of the gang?

Historically, nope. We missed out, although there were raids and invasions that may have led to informal introductions. Also left out were the Italian-Americans, French-Canadians, Poles, Scots, Jews, and others in the Rhode Island neighborhood I grew up in. As far as I know, there is no old-style Anglo-Saxon enclave in the Upper Valley.

But who, exactly, were they?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, which ought to know, the Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribes who invited themselves into England. They ruled, sometimes with more territory, sometimes less, from the fifth century to 1066, known by history teachers and Jeopardy! players everywhere as the date of the Norman Conquest. Soon after, the English court was speaking French, which is maybe why you suffered with a C in French II in high school, all because of a couple of bad breaks in the Battle of Hastings. And so history and transcripts go.

But back to the olden days, which were probably spelled something like “oldewen dayse” or even “oldewenge daysgeh,” because olden scribes were always throwing in g’s and h’s to keep things interesting in Old English. An article on the Mental Floss website says it “had a different phonology of a much more complex structure than we have today.” And that it “relied on a series of word endings and inflections to convey meaning.” Those must have been the dark ages for Old English composition students, but fortunately, not many people were literate.

Scribes employed delightful letter combinations, with dandies like “frumbyrdling” for a young boy growing his first bread, or “attercope” (poison head) for spiders.

Instead of Happy Friday, they might have said “Glaed Frigedaeg,” if I have it right (not being a native speaker). But since they probably didn’t have weekends off in the same sense we do, maybe they never said it anyway. I don’t know if you could ever grill and chill with Vikings around the corner.

A BBC website for kids claimed the Anglo-Saxons were fairly diversified. ”They invaded as many different tribes and each took over different parts of Britain. From time to time, the strongest king would claim to be “bretwalda,” which meant “ruler of all Briton.” Does Greene perchance want an American bretwalda? Anybody she has in mind?

The Anglo-Saxons served justice swiftly. There was no prison system, and money talked. If you murdered someone you paid their family for their loss — ideal for the 1 percenters. And, the BBC tells young readers, “For minor crimes like stealing, a nose or hand might be cut off.” Say, kids, how about that?

Anglo-Saxon sports included wrestling, horse-racing and contests involving lifting heavy rocks. Fun included storytelling around a fire, playing with simple toys and hiding from Vikings. They didn’t need video games, because people with swords and daggers were chasing them in real life.

Anyway, there was a lot more to the Middle Ages than the America First tribe may be aware of. There were actual people on the scene before the Anglo-Saxon arrival, such as Britons, Celts and even some Romans, whose legacy includes more bad grades, in Latin I.

The Romans left and the Anglo-Saxons had a long run. And so it went until Americans said farewell to all that. Today we are a melting pot of so many traditions that it’s foolish to say that one rules them all. It’s a chore to blend all the ingredients, but there’s no turning back now. And no reason to.

Through the years, right here in our Upper Valley, I’ve encountered people from Brazil, Haiti, Ukraine, Iraq, Vietnam, various countries in Africa, Germany, Denmark, the Philippines — and even England. From brief encounters to more substantial ones, they have made life richer.

If Greene can’t learn to love the American experiment in 2021, I would suggest she put on a woolen tunic and go back to the lands of ancient Mercia (now the English midlands), or wherever it is she thinks she came from. The rest of us can live in the real world, which has a chance to be great, really.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.




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