Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic written in English. (Okay, it's in Old English, but you get the idea.) In fact, it's the oldest epic poem or story in any modern(ish) European language. (Source)
Sometimes frustrated students describe Shakespeare's work as written in "Old English," but this is a misnomer. True Old English is so different from the English we speak today that you couldn't understand a word of it unless you learned it as a foreign language.
"Old English" refers to the Anglo-Saxon language spoken in Britain before the Norman Conquest of 1066, when French words and grammar changed English forever. That's why you have to read Beowulf in translation. By contrast, Shakespearean English may feel archaic, but it's actually considered the earliest form of Modern English by linguists and literary scholars, since we're able to read it without a translator. (Source)
With constant warfare between tribes, life was tough for the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian peoples in the early Medieval period. One indicator of this is lifespan: the average life expectancy for men was 40-50, and for women only 30-40! (Source)