Sword excavated at Sutton Hoo,  British Museum , 6th-early 7th century.

Sword excavated at Sutton Hoo, British Museum, 6th-early 7th century.

Old English Literature: Beowulf and Beyond

Upper-level undergraduate seminar/Graduate seminar

This course provides a broad introduction to literature written in Old English, the vernacular language of early medieval England. This course may be taught as one of two variants: an advanced course on the Old English language for students who have completed at least one semester studying the language of Old English or a seminar for which Old English skills are not required, in which all texts may be read in translation.

Advanced Old English

As an advanced course on the Old English language, Beowulf and Beyond will focus primarily on the act of translating Beowulf over the course of the semester. Students will wrestle with challenging vocabulary and syntax, as well as the translator’s process of choosing how to represent early medieval concepts in modern English. Students will also read analogues to Beowulf in translation, and translate relevant passages from Old English; for example, alongside Beowulf’s description of the Grendelkin’s mere, students will read Blickling Homily XVII and craft their own translation of the passage describing St Paul’s vision of hell in terms similar to those used for the mere in Beowulf. Assessment will include in-class participation in translation; a scaffolded project to create an polished, annotated translation of a portion of Beowulf; and, for graduate students, a seminar paper the length of a short article.

Old English Literature in Translation

As a seminar on Old English literature in translation, Beowulf and Beyond will give students opportunities to engage with Old English literature in a variety of genres, structured around units on: historical writing in early medieval England, the Beowulf manuscript, the Exeter and Vercelli Books, religious prose, and Old English adaptations. Assessment will include short essays for each unit and a larger, overarching research paper.

Readings may include:

  • Unit 1, historical writing: Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (selections), the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (selections), The Battle of Maldon, The Battle of Brunanburh, Alfred’s prefaces to Gregory’s Pastoral Care

  • Unit 2, the Beowulf manuscript: Beowulf, The Wonders of the East, The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle

  • Unit 3, the Exeter and Vercelli Books: The Dream of the Rood, Andreas, Exeter Book riddles, elegies (e.g., The Wife’s Lament, The Seafarer, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Ruin), Deor and Widsith, Soul and Body I and II

  • Unit 4, religious prose: selected homilies of Ælfric and Wulfstan and homilies from the Vercelli Book and Blickling Codex, the Life of St Margaret of Antioch

  • Unit 5, Old English adaptations: Genesis A and B, the Old English Boethius (selections), Apollonius of Tyre