Alfred was extraordinary for an early medieval king in several respects. He was a particularly wily military commander, successfully keeping the Danes at bay, and he wisely shored up defenses when the enemies of his kingdom were occupied elsewhere. At a time when England was little more than a collection of warring kingdoms, he established diplomatic relations with his neighbors, including the Welsh, and unified a substantial portion of the heptarchy. He displayed remarkable administrative flair, reorganizing his army, issuing important laws, protecting the weak, and promoting learning. But most unusual of all, he was a gifted scholar. Alfred the Great translated several works from Latin into his own language, Anglo-Saxon, known to us as Old English, and wrote some works of his own. In his translations, he sometimes inserted comments that offer insight not only into the books but into his own mind.
Here are some notable quotations from the notable English king, Alfred the Great.
I desired to live worthily as long as I lived and to leave after my life, to the men who should come after me, the memory of me in good works.
From Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
Remember what punishments befell us in this world when we ourselves did not cherish learning nor transmit it to other men.
From Pastoral Care by Pope Gregory the Great
Therefore he seems to me a very foolish man, and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.
From "Blooms" (aka Anthology)
Very often it has come to my mind what men of learning there were formerly throughout England, both in religious and secular orders; and how there were happy times then throughout England; and how the kings, who had authority over this people, obeyed God and his messengers; and how they not only maintained their peace, morality, and authority at home but also extended their territory outside; and how they succeeded both in warfare and in wisdom; and also how eager were the religious orders both in teaching and in learning as well as in all the holy services which it was their duty to perform for God; and how people from abroad sought wisdom and instruction in this country; and how nowadays, if we wished to acquire these things, we would have to seek them outside.
From the preface to Pastoral Care
When I recalled how knowledge of Latin had previously decayed throughout England, and yet many could still read things written in English, I then began, amidst the various and multifarious afflictions of this kingdom, to translate into English the book which in Latin is called Pastoralis, in English "Shepherd-book", sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense.
From the preface to Pastoral Care
For in prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him through suffering and sorrow. In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship, he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling. In prosperity a man often destroys the good he has done; amidst difficulties, he often repairs what he long since did in the way of wickedness.
In recent years, the veracity of Alfred's authorship has been called into question. Did he really translate anything from Latin to Old English? Did he write anything of his own? Check out the arguments in Jonathan Jarrett's blog post, Deintellectualising King Alfred.