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The Old English scop or sceop was a title of some complexity in Anglo-Saxon culture. Essentially it refered to a minstrel or bard usually attached to a royal court and charged with the task of reciting poetry in praise of heroic exploits. As a result, he was viewed as kind of poet laureate whose office it was to preserve the history of the Germanic peoples. The Old English poem, Widsith, found in the Exeter Book, purports to be the travelogue of one such scop as he journeyed across northern Europe. Widsith is compendium of tribes, peoples and heroes, but it is also a kind of job description of the scop, a "record of lost heroic song" (Chambers). The complexity of the title appears in its cognates: Scop is related to the Old High German scopf meaning "abuse, derision" and to the Old Norse skop, meaning "mocking, scolding". Thus, the official reciter of epic poetry in the formal setting of the royal hall is also related - at least, etymologically - to the court jester or fool. This in itself is not surprising since the ancient Germanic world knows of no sharp distinction between heroism and crude jesting.
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