The OLD ENGLISH scop (pronounced “shope”) was a professional poet and singer, both the reciter of old legends and the creator of new ones. The name seems to be the preterite form of the verb scieppan (to shape or create), thus the scop was the tribe’s “shaper,” or “creator.”No mere entertainer, the scop was the living keeper of the oral history and heroic tradition of his people.While many scopas seem to have been permanently attached to royal households (as the scop character in BEOWULF seems a fixture at the court of the Danish king Hrothgar), some scopas no doubt wandered from court to court, seeking a patron who would employ them. The Old English poem WIDSITH (far traveler) illustrates the life of one such poet. A lord had much to gain from the employment of a good scop, since in addition to retelling old legends, part of the scop’s responsibility was to create new songs, sometimes extemporaneously, that glorified his patron or his patron’s family. The scop in Beowulf, for example, is depicted as composing an impromptu lay immediately after Beowulf’s battle with the monster Grendel. The scop seems generally to have performed before his lord and guests in the lord’s hall, singing or chanting to a harp—a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon harp was discovered among the artifacts of the Sutton Hoo ship burial recovered in 1939. He would have known a great number of stories concerning the ancient Germanic heroes. Much he may have memorized, though many of his stories may have been told through oral formulas that could be adopted to various situations. The tone of the poems created by scopas was formal and somber, and poets used a specialized vocabulary more formal and more ancient than everyday speech.He was respected as the keeper of the traditions that united his people, so that his function was not unlike that of a priest. After the conversion of the Old English people to Christianity, Old English poets adopted their poetic traditions and language to the service of the new religion, as the story of CAEDMON’s Hymn illustrates. It seems likely that while the scopas survived in later Anglo-Saxon times, they began to sing songs with Christian themes.Certainly most of the written Old English poetry that survives deals with Christian matter, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the oral performers of poetry were singing similar songs.
   ■ Alexander,Michael, trans. The Earliest English Poems. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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  • scop — [shôp, skäp] n. [OE, poet, minstrel, lit., maker of taunting verses: see SCOFF1] an Old English poet or bard …   English World dictionary

  • scop|u|la — «SKOP yuh luh», noun, plural las or lae « lee». a small brushlike pad of stiff hairs on the tarsi of bees and spiders. ╂[< New Latin scopula < Latin scōpula; see etym. under scopulate (Cf. ↑scopulate)] …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Scop — A ag. scop was an Old English poet, the Anglo Saxon counterpart of the Old Norse no. skald . As far as we can tell from what has been preserved, the art of the scop was directed mostly towards epic poetry; the surviving verse in Old English… …   Wikipedia

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