Maxims in The Battle of Maldon

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Abstract

The article suggests that maxims are traditional forms of expression which reflect a socially sanctioned world view. Maxims function like proverbs in two main ways: affectively, when they are intended to influence future conduct, and evaluatively, when they are intended to judge past actions. They have authority as accepted answers to recurrent errors, problems and conflicts. This authority extends beyond literature to the society which creates and uses maxims in its speech. It follows that maxims can be manipulated by a poet in his work to affect the actions and intentions of his society. In a detailed reading of the contexts and functions of the maxims in The Battle of Maldon, an argument is developed that maxims not only contribute to the characterisation and narrative flow; but also show something of the poet's concern to create an ideal (or reinforce a nascent ideal) of men dying with their lord, by cloaking it in the forms of heroic maxims.

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