English 3L06
    Old English Language and Literature

Dr. A. Savage
CNH 326
Office Hours :
Term 1 : 12.30-1.30, or by appointment
Term 2 : TBA
Email : savage@mcmail.mcmaster.ca


B. Mitchell & F.Robinson, eds A Guide to Old English
George Jack, Beowulf

James Campbell, The Anglo-Saxons

Custom Courseware : Includes selections from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (in translation), Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (in translation), Allen Franzen, Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English and Teaching the Tradition, Andy Orchard, Katherine O'Brien O'Keefe.


*Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People in translation, Penguin Classics
*The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, trans. G. Garmonsway  Everyman, or by Anne Savage. Mcmillan, etc.
*Bede A History of the English Church and People, trans L. Shirley-Price  Penguin.
*Any other translations of Old English poetry, including Beowulf (In-class comparisons of translations are always interesting).
*Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: Beowulf as Metaphor, Alvin Lee, University of Toronto Press: 1998
*L.E. Nicholson  An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism Notre Dame Press.

You will want to consult Bonsworth-Toller, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, on some occasions, though the texts we will be using have glossaries.


A very large proportion of your work will be done in the form of translation in class, class discussion, and occasional reading of the texts aloud;

Brief in-class tests will be worth a total of 10%.
Two short presentations (one each term) are worth 12.5% each.
Two papers, one at the end of each term, are due in the last two weeks of term, are worth 20% each.
The final exam is worth 25%.


This course introduces the language and literature of the Anglo-Saxons, the culturally dominant inhabitants of England from about the middle of the 5th century A.D. until the massive cultural and linguistic changes that were occuring before the end of the 11th century: in the first term, shorter prose pieces and poems will be studied both linguistically and in terms of the literary modes they represent.

    This is essentially a course in literary archaeology, and is likely to be the only thing like it you ever do. First, you'll have to learn a foriegn language: after some work you will have the happy surprise that you recognize it, after all, as the basis of your own. This necessitates a lot of drudgery, just like learning any new language. You'll have to memorize paradigms of noun declensions and verb conjugations for a time, until you can work on the poetry, which is grammatically more complex than prose. Meanwhile, we'll be working on some simple prose in the text. Once you can work out the grammatical structures necessary for reading, you must cultivate a careful awareness of your own distance in cultural terms from what you are reading. It's a small fragment of the fragile product of an extinct culture which is nevertheless responsible for the dominant conceptions of English linguistic and literary culture.

    As you can see from the distribution of marks, class participation is one of the most important aspects of your work. I'll ask people to sign a class list which will be circulated each day. The most important kind of work at the beginning is regular attention to grammar; if you don't do this you'll find yourself unable to read the literature, which won't be available to you in translation when you most want it. In class, I'll ask you to translate as literally as possible from your text, which you'll probably find easy to gloss. Cribbed translations from elsewhere won't serve you here (because they aren't literal enough). This is very slow-going at first, but is necessary to gain basic grammatical competence. Again, remember I'm there to assist you.

If you've never studied another language, you may find you need extra help, which I'm happy to give. If enough poeple ask, we can set up group tutorials before exams.

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