Old English literature has inspired many more modern literary works, from Walter Scott to Seamus Heaney. What is it that attracts us to this literary past? In this module, we explore how the Anglo-Saxon period can be usefully explored as a series of cultural encounters and exchanges between peoples and poets through and across time. We will look at how the Anglo-Saxons became the English, examining the great migrations of the Germanic peoples into the British Isles and their subsequent conversion to Christianity. We will look too at how the literature of this period stages a series of engagements between the late classical and pagan pasts and the ‘new’ literature of the Christians, its holy men and women, and its visionary prophets. The module also attends to the powerful evidence for modern poetry’s interest in the poetry of this period. We will think about the relationship between culture and society, as well as that between different forms and genres of cultural expression. The module will include a basic introduction to the Old English language, as well as literature, so that students can begin to explore for themselves its literary monuments. The assessment is designed to reflect the module’s twin interests in creative translation and literary and cultural history, and allows students to receive feedback on their translation work. A past paper will be available to provide information for the exam.
Mid-semester translation and commentary: 15%
End-semester translation and commentary: 35%
One-hour prior-disclosure exam: 50%
The assessment is designed to reflect the module’s twin interests in creative translation and literary and cultural history, and allows students to receive feedback on their translation work.
Educational aims & objectives
The educational aim of this module is to develop an introductory knowledge and understanding of the language and literary culture of the Anglo-Saxons (c. 500 - 11 00), with a particular focus on the key cultural issues of the period; develop knowledge of the history of early medieval Britain; understand the history of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons; interrogate questions of national identity.
This module provides students with introductory knowledge of Old English language and ability to translate select passages of Old English poetry and prose into good Modern English prose. Knowledge of linguistic, literary, cultural and socio - historical contexts in which Anglo-Saxon literature is written and read. Awareness of critical traditions and genres shaping literary and cultural history of the period. Understanding of the importance of the Anglo - Saxon language in the creation of meaning, and sensitivity to the affective power of language. Critical skills consonant with preliminary study of Old English texts, both poetry and prose, together with broader knowledge of literature in translation. Development of preliminary research skills necessary to studying this period.
This module is taught in lectures and seminars, with the lectures covering cultural and literary history and the seminars focussed on translation.
Suggested reading list
Richard Marsden’s The Cambridge Old English Reader (2004 or later), will provide the basics for language work and textual study. Also required is a standard anthology of Old English literature in translation such as Kevin Crossley Holland’s The Anglo-Saxon World, S.A. J. Bradley’s Anglo-Saxon Poetry of Greg Delanty and Michael Matto’s The Word Exchange and the Penguin or Oxford paperback translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.