Old English, for most of us (me included!) evokes images straight out of Tolkein’s version of Meduseld, the mead-hall of Rohan: helmeted warriors, sturdy beams intricate with carving, bright swords and polished helmets. The gruff and guttural English of the Anglo-Saxons is strange and foreign to modern ears, but it has a rugged and “muscular” sound that carries throughout the poetry of the age. Surprisingly delicate and witty in kennings, wordplay, and riddles, Anglo-Saxon literature and language is a delight to explore.
NOTE: Outline or take textual notes on all textbook information that you are asked to read. I will give occasional open-note quizzes, so taking notes will definitely help your understanding.
- Read and annotate pp. 16-27 in your textbook, The Language of Literature for background information.
- Read pp. 28-31, The Language of Literature for information about Beowulf.
- Read p. 63, “The Beowulf Poet,” in The Language of Literature.
- Read p. 61-62 about modern-day scop Benjamin Bagby, whose video can be found here.
- You will need to memorize the locations of several major countries in western Europe relevant to English history and literature. I will periodically test students by giving them a blackline map similar to this one and asking them to identify specific countries or geographical features.
- Countries and geographical features to remember:
The countries of the British isles: Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England (Mnemonic trick: WISE)
The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland (Mnemonic trick: No Smelly Fish). Please also include Denmark and Iceland.
- The countries especially important in the classical period, specifically Greece, Rome, and Turkey
- England’s frequent rivals, France, Spain (and Portugal), the Netherlands, and Germany
- Important bodies of water: the English channel, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the North Sea, the river Thames, the river Seine
- Capitals of England, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Ireland
Anglo-Saxon Literature Readings
NOTE: Readings are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.” Optional readings are just that — optional. They are there for your convenience and to help expand your understanding of the course material. If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you. If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
Please read all Beowulf selections on pp. 32-60, The Language of Literature.
- OPTIONAL: Please read the information on the comitatus bond in Anglo-Saxon culture.
- OPTIONAL: Please also read the really cool article “How the Hobbits Saved Civilization” for insights into Beowulf!
- OPTIONAL: See this helpful Beowulf Study Guide.
- OPTIONAL: See a different translation of Beowulf here!
- OPTIONAL: Check out some of the Anglo-Saxon riddles from The Exeter Book. NOTE: Some of these riddles contain adult content.
Handouts Note: Handouts are usually given in class to support in-class work. Please do not do these assignments unless you are specifically asked to do so. They are put here for your convenience and reference.
- Do You Speak Anglo-Saxon?
- Riddle Game
- OPTIONAL: What would happen if we only used Anglo-Saxon-based words in our language? See this funny essay, “Uncleftish Beholding, aka Atomic Theory” Read about the smallest particles of matter…the “unclefts”!
NOTE: The following are possible writing assignments for this unit. Any writing assignment will be given and explained in class. In other words, please do not do these assignments unless you’re specifically asked to do so. They are put here for your convenience and reference.
- Anglo-Saxon Quote Analysis This shorter assignment, including options for regular- and honors-level students, prepares students for literary analysis essays by having them choose quotations from Beowulf, write context, and analyze their importance.
- Anglo-Saxon Paper – This 3-4 page paper assignment, including options for regular- and honors-level students, asks writers to address issues of characterization, motif, and symbolism in Beowulf and/or “The Ruin.”
Resources for the Media-Minded
NOTE: Resources are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.” Optional resources, like the optional readings, are just that — optional. They are there for your convenience and to help expand your understanding of the course material. If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you. If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at email@example.com with your suggestions.
- OPTIONAL: What would happen if we only used Anglo-Saxon-based words in our language? See this funny essay, “Uncleftish Beholding, aka Atomic Theory” !
- OPTIONAL See this helpful Beowulf Study Guide.
- OPTIONAL: These YouTube videos give a helpful overview of Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon culture.
- OPTIONAL: See also Part II , Part III , Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII. of the Beowulf and the Anglo- Saxons video.
- OPTIONAL: See this Benjamin Bagby video — a modern-day scop reciting Beowulf .
- OPTIONAL: Here is another version of Beowulf’s opening lines by a female reader.
- OPTIONAL: Want to learn more? Oxford University has a series of downloadable podcasts including “Old English in Context.”
- OPTIONAL The accessibly energetic Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf is a delight!
- OPTIONAL: Beowulf works well as a graphic novel! Check out this version by James Rumford , this version by Gareth Hinds, and this version by Michael Morpurgo.
- OPTIONAL:The most impressive Beowulf page EV-ER. Easily toggle between and among among (apparently) a zillion translations, plus other resources!
- OPTIONAL: A line-by-line translation and original text of Beowulf . Very helpful if you’re looking up the original Anglo-Saxon term for a translated word in your text!