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Anglo Saxon CS Lewis Ettington giants Place names Tolkien

Ettington, the town of giants!

For my job I drive a lot. I am on the road at 6am to get to the school before 8am to teach anything from Stone Age to Victorians. Thanks to an excellent experience at the University of Wales Lampeter, I have a broad and rich knowledge of history which I can apply at a moments notice. I also have read too much Tolkien and CS Lewis. I like place names be they real or imaginary and one day as I drove through Ettington it rang a bell. The bell was with the Ettinmores which exist both in Narnia and Middle Earth. Both of which are occupied by Trolls and Giants.

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

So when I drove through the village of Ettington I got very excited. Ettin in an Old English word that only appears once in the literature. In the poem Beowulf the poet, Deor, lists all the evil creatures that are descended from Cain which include Orcs, Elves and Ettin. Ettin are usually translated as Giants so Ettington can be translated to the tun (town) of the Ettin (giants). Is it important? Probably not. Is it exciting? Absolutely.

I think it worth noting that I am sure the modern inhabitants of Ettington are probably lovely and not trolls or dangerous giants.

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This current darkness

I was moved today by the front page of the Spectator that showed the NHS as soldiers in trenches fighting a war. I was incredibly moved by one of my friends who is a radiographer who shaved off his beard so that his PPE would work and I was moved to tears by my own sense of worthlessness in this current crisis.

I am a historian with an interest in literature and philosophy. Quite useless at the best of times but in a hospital even worse that useless, a potential menace. What use is a knowledge of Paelolithic fauna or Bronze Age language in a resuscitation? None. Its like that poster of the little girl asking her father what he did in the Great War for civilisation. I know that it is shameless emotional blackmail but what am I doing for civilisation during this six months of lockdown?

I am reminded of a lecture delivered by CS Lewis during the Second World War to humanity students who were wondering if there were any point learning about Anglo-Saxons during wartime. Lewis argued that wartime and peace time were in fact the same. The only difference is that in wartime it is impossible to forget the truth that everyone dies in the end. In peace time you can forget that, you can forget that our society and culture is finite and you can forget the sheer unfairness of the universe. During wartime these truths bear down on us to the exclusion of all else.

My knowledge therefore is equally redundant during a Corona lockdown or during freedom. It is equally valid as well. Peace and war are the same and so should be my attitude to my discipline. Which leads back to my last post, what is the point of history? The point of history is to inform, entertain, educate and see the world through different eyes. To liberate the individual from the pressure of the now and take a wider perspective. My house built in the 1930s was bombed in the war, stands on a deer park owned by the Black Prince and is in striking distance of a Roman Fort built after the Boudican revolt. The purpose of history is to show a bigger and wider world and get in some of the sap that human life is built on.

When my friend shaved his beard I did the same. I now go shopping for my elderly neighbours and enjoy my daily walk around the Quint. Now I feel a bit less useless in that I can see a role for my discipline in the current darkness and I will leave you with a quote from one of my favourite Anglo-Saxon poets (credited with Beowulf by Tolkien, maybe with a smile) “..this too will pass.”

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Book review Classics CS Lewis History Stocism

What have I just finished reading? A Classical Education

I have a talk coming up in March that quite frankly is scaring me to death.  I have to give a series of forty minute talks to some ….. teenagers!  (Dan Dan Daaa!)

So yes I am brushing up on my Classical knowledge.  As a young and foolish man I really hated the Classics in general and Philosophy in particular but now at the age of 30 (version 9) I have come to love them.  My other interests include CS Lewis.  I have read everything that Lewis wrote and now with my classical knowledge increasing I can understand him a deeper level.  I never realised how much stoicism was in Mere Christianity or the Screwtape Letters!

I have just finished reading A Classical Education which proved to be a good read, full of interesting facts and enlightening.