Old English


This course offers an introduction to the language and literature of pre-Conquest England. The range of texts for reading and translation includes stories about the miraculous origins of English verse, the beast-killing heroics of Beowulf, the disastrous defeat of the Maldon men, who strove to save their homes from slaughterous Vikings … and failed; or did they? We’ll also read some more contemplative verse, including the mournful meditations of the hope-hindered warrior in the Wanderer and the peculiar confession of the Holy Cross, which tells its side of the Crucifixion. We might also have the time to read a saint’s life or two.

As we plod through the grammar—and understand that this will require a deal of memorization on your part—we’ll incorporate lectures and discussions on various aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture: the origins of the Anglo-Saxons themselves, where they lived, what they ate; we’ll have a look at some manuscript facsimiles and talk about the book-making process; and we’ll cover some important archaeological discoveries (Sutton Hoo, Staffordshire) and consider how these relate to the literature. In the end, you’ll have a working knowledge of Old English, which means you'll be to translate with the help of a dictionary.


Sample Syllabus

Pronunciation Guide


Demonstrative pronoun, se.

Demonstrative pronoun, he.

Strong noun, stan.

Strong neuter nouns,scip and word.

Strong feminine,giefu.

Strong feminine, lar.


Opening of Beowulf(Guide, p. 295)

Story of Caedmon (Guide, p. 230)

Caedmon’s Hymn