Common Ground

Someone has been google-searching ‘Anglo Saxon customs in Australia’. Now, I happen to think we in Australia have some common cultural ground with our Anglo-Saxon forbears, and it is this: booze. Anglo-Saxons liked booze. Australians like booze. Australian social culture revolves around boozing far more than some of us would like.

I give you Wulfstan’s Admonition to Bishops:

And hit is egeslic gewuna, Þæt we eac habbað: sylfe we bysniað oft and gelome Þæt we geornost scoldan ægwær forbeodan… we oferdrucen lufiað to georne and mid ðam huru ðencað, Þæt we us sylfe weorðian wide, Þe we oðre men drecan to swyÞe.
And it is (a) dreadful custom, which we each have: we (our)selves set an example often and frequently which we should most eagerly forbid everywhere… we love drunkenness to eagerly. And certainly think upon that, which we ourselves praise widely, so that we make other men too greatly drunk.1

Now, to the best of my knowledge neither the Anglican nor Catholic Archbishop of Sydney has lately been accused of ‘staying too long on the bench of the ale-house’, as were Wulfstan’s fellow-bishops. I have known a good few ministers of the Word in my time who happily trot down to the pub after church for a beer or two- a perfect example of the moderation Wulfstan advises.

I’m quite sure, however, that Wulfstan would consider the other book-learned members of our society- the politicians and the lawyers, the doctors, the students, and yes, quite definitely the medievalists- likewise responsible for setting a good moral example to the degenerate footballers of the nation. Wulfstan would not be encouraging students to drink their stresses away. Wulfstan might even argue that the inebriated examples of those who should know better are in some way responsible for the antics of, say, Shane Warne. He would certainly have some choice alliteration to describe the kind of drunken embarrassments to the country (let me have a stab at this) which one may find here:

Hooligans and hoons, racists and rioters, misogynists and misanthropes, criminals and crooks, lushes and lechers, and those who, all too often, embarrass the establishment, with drunkenness, which they should defend.2

In conclusion: one Anglo-Saxon custom we cling to very eagerly, O Google Searcher, is that of social drinking, often to excess. Drunkenness as group bonding. Convivial imbibing as the key to ‘networking’. Whether or not this is a good thing, I leave to your discretion.

Finally: when next you’re having a glass before knucking down to write, remember to:


1. For the persnickety: the Admonition is in Jost’s edition of the Institutes of Polity, p. 262ff, and if from the MS London, British Library, Cotton Nero A.i: f. 100v.ff. The translation is mine and shouldn’t be trusted.
2. OK, it’s nigh impossible to keep one’s syntax straight and alliterate a sentence. I am suddenly more tolerant of convoluted Anglo-Saxon expressions.


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