on March 19, 2004
Focusing on the Anglo-Saxon institution of the mead-hall, the author leads us to a view of what may have been a basic building block of Germanic culture.
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.
Stephen Pollington's The Mead-Hall: Feasting in Anglo-Saxon England, is a marvelous resource for anyone interested in the role of mead-halls in Anglo-Saxon England in particular or of feasting-halls in early Germanic culture in general. Pollington draws on a variety of resources from the literary to the historical to the archeological to give the most complete picture of everything you could possibly want to know about mead-halls. In particular, he always includes the literary references with both the original Old English text and the modern English translation, which is particularly useful in gaining a knowledge of the exact terms used and what they meant for everything involved in mead-hall culture. Pollingon also includes a number of well-drawn illustrations of mead-hall artifacts from actual archeological finds which help the reader to visualize Anglo-Saxon crafts and styles.
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.
on March 10, 2016
Stephen Pollington happens to be one of my favorite authors. While his works are academic in nature, they are written in an accessible manner. This book is no different in that respect. It draws heavily upon archaeology and primary sources.
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.
on March 10, 2009
Pollington has done it again. This work explores the Mead-Hall and its connection to old Germanic and Anglo-Saxon culture. This work is extremely important as it relates to the structure of old English and old Germanic society, ritual space, food, and domestic life.
The work is well thought out and presented. I would highly recommend this book.