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English 360
The Anglo-Saxons
Spring 2006
     MWF            11 - 11:50 am
1221 Humanities

General Description




Tentative Schedule

General Description

This is a course in the literature and cultural history of England from c. 450 to c. 1100 AD, the period when the island of Britain was first settled by English-speaking immigrants who established their own kingdoms there and, later, their own nation.                                                  

Readings, which will be in translation, will include the whole of Beowulf, substantial selections from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Asser’s Life of King Alfred, some lyric, elegiac, and heroic poems, and a variety of other texts including laws, charters, wills, charms, riddles, and the like.  Some guidance will be given in the basic features of the Old English language.  Attention will be paid to the archaeological record, the visual arts, and material culture.  Considerable attention will be devoted to the development of monasticism, the heritage of paganism, the production of manuscripts, and the influence of Roman and Irish Christianity on the formation of Anglo-Saxon thought.

The course is cross-listed between English, History, Medieval Studies, and Religious Studies, and an effort will be made to accommodate the differing perspectives of students specializing in those different but interconnected fields.

The course is also designated as “writing-intensive.”  Attention  to the process of effective essay writing is an integral part of  its plan.



Regular attendance, preparation, and participation in class; two take-home essays c. 6 pages in length, the first of which is to be submitted in two drafts; a midterm exam, a final exam, and occasional spot quizzes; one 2-page assignment; and a journal

Each take-home essay will count 20%  toward the final grade in the course.  The midterm exam will count 15% and the final exam 25%.  The remaining 20% of the final grade will be determined by evidence of genuine engagement in the process of learning, as shown by such factors as attendance in class, full participation n peer criticism, performance on spot quizzes or incidental assignments, and  completion of a satisfactory journal.



            Office: 6131 H.C. White Hall
            Office hours: Tu
1:30 – 2:30 p.m., W             2:3- - 3:30 pm, and by appointment.

            Tel. (608) 265-9836. 



Texts (with short titles)

Required texts

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Sherley-Price, rev. ed. Penguin, 1990.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford, 1984.

Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2000.

Hunter Blair, Peter. Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd ed. with a new introduction by Simon Keynes.  Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003.

Keynes, Simon, and Michael Lapidge. Alfred the Great. Penguin, 1983.

Swanton, Michael.   The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  Phoenix, 2000.

Recommended texts

Campbell, James. The Anglo-Saxons. Penguin, 1991.

Godden, Malcolm, and Michael Lapidge. The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature.

Liuzza, R.M.  Beowulf: A New Verse Translation.  Broadview, 2000.

In addition, certain readings are  available through a small Course Reader (abbreviated CR) and through the College Library’s electronic reserves (abbreviated ER).


Tentative Schedule

W Jan. 18  Introduction to the course.

F Jan 20     Bede’s account of Britain, of the Roman conquest, of St Alban, of himself.  End of bk V (pp. 329-31); bk I, esp. chs. 1, 6-8.  During the next ten days or so also read Blair, An Introduction, ch. 1 (pp. 1-54) and the first part of ch. 3 (pp. 116-166).  Also C-H, “The Whale,” pp. 287-89); cf. “The Whale” [OE text].

M Jan 23    The English conquest.  Bede, bk I, esp. chs. 10, 12, 14-16.  Cf. Swanton, the annals for the years 449 ff.

W Jan 25   The Gregorian mission.  Bede, bk I, esp. chs. 22-26, 30; bk II, ch. 1.

F Jan 27     The conversion of King Edwin of
Northumbria.  Bede, bk II, esp. chs. 9, 12-13.

M Jan 30     The holy life: St Oswald and St Aidan.  Bede, bk III, esp chs. 2-6, 9-10, 15-17.

W Feb 1      The two churches,
Rome and Iona; the life of St Cuthbert.  Bede, bk III, esp. chs. 25-26; bk IV, esp. chs. 27-32.

F Feb 3        The Golden Age of Northumbrian manuscript illustration (slide lecture).



M Feb 6        Visions and marvels in Bede.  Cædmon’s inspiration (bk IV, ch. 24).  (Cf. C-H, “Cædmon’s Hymn,” p. 197).  Also Fursey’s vision (bk III, ch. 19); the nuns of Barking (bk IV, chs. 7-9); the vision of Drythelm (bk V, ch. 12).  Cf. Cædmon’s "Hymn"; click here for audio link.

W Feb 8       Anglo-Saxon paganism: Sutton Hoo (slide lecture).

F Feb 10      Anglo-Saxon paganism: some literary evidence.  C-H, “Deor” and “Three Charms,” pp. 7-8 and 270-71 respectively.  “The Lay of Volund” and selections from Anglo-Saxon Magic (CR).  
“Deor”; click here for audio link.  Recommended: Niles, “Pagan Survivals and Popular Belief” (ER).


M Feb 13      King Alfred the Great, warrior-king.  Blair ch. 2, pp. 55-80 and ch. 3, pp. 166-73.  Swanton, annals for the years 793, 837-901; cf. K&L, pp. 113-20, 171-72.

W Feb 15     Asser’s King Alfred: the biographer as mythmaker.  K&L, pp. 44-48, 66-110. First draft of paper #1 due at beginning of class.

F Feb 17      King Alfred the Great, philosopher-king.   K&L, pp. 124-27, 163-70.  Blair, ch. 6, pp. 350-55.  C-H, “The Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan,” pp. 262-68.



M Feb 20    Tenth-century state formation.  Blair, ch. 3, pp. 173-78 and ch. 6, pp. 356-63.  C-H, “The Battle of Brunanburh,” pp. 19-21; cf. Swanton, the annal for 937.  “The Battle of Brunanburh"; click here for audio link. Recommended: Niles, "Skaldic Technique in Brunanburh" (ER).

W Feb 22     Renewed Viking troubles: Maldon and its aftermath.  Blair ch. 2, pp. 80-104.  Swanton, annals for 991-1011.  C-H, “The Battle of Maldon,” pp. 11-19. “The Battle of Maldon.”  Recommended: Niles, "Maldon and Mythopoesis" (ER).

F Feb 24       Ælfric and Wulfstan as preachers and men of letters.   C-H: Ælfric, “A Colloquy” and “The Passion of St. Edmund,” pp. 19-21 and 220-33, respectively; Wulfstan, “The Sermon of ‘Wolf to the English,” pp. 291-99.



M Feb 27     From Cnut the Great to William the Conquerer.  Blair, pp. 99-115, 178-93.  Swanton, the annal for 1066. 

W Mar 1      The Bayeux Tapestry (slide lecture).  Final draft of paper #1 due at beginning of class.

F Mar 3       “The Norman yoke.”  Blair ch. 2, pp. 104-15.  Swanton, the E version of the Chronicle for the years 1083, 1085, 1086, 1135.


M Mar 6        REVIEW.

W Mar 8        MIDTERM EXAMINATION.  Hand in journals.

F Mar 10        Film: “The Story of English, part II: The Mother Tongue.”  Blair ch. 6 (pp. 301-49). 



March 11-19    SPRING BREAK – YEAH!  But you still have an assignment: read Heaney’s Beowulf over the break.  Then you can study the poem closely part by part during the next three weeks, and you can compare other translations as well, e.g. Liuzza’s.



M Mar 20     Approaching Beowulf: A Christian poet looks back at the Germanic Heroic Age.  Lines 1-193.

W Mar 22    Beowulf: The hero sets out.  Lines 194-702.

F Mar 24     Beowulf: Man against monster: the first great fight.  Lines 702-1019.



M Mar 27     Beowulf: The economy of feuds and gifts; the haunted mere.  Lines 1020-1441.  C-H, “The Finnesburh Fragment,” pp. 8-9.  “The Fight at Finnsburh.”

W Mar 29     Beowulf: The second great fight and its aftermath: mythic core of the poem.  Lines 1279-2199.

F Mar 31     Beowulf grown old: the fight against the dragon.  Lines 2200-2711.



M Apr 3       The hero’s passing; the tomb of Beowulf.  Lines 2711-3182.  Ancillary readings for this week: (a) Heaney’s introduction (pp. ix-xxx); (b) Tolkien, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”; Niles, Beowulf, Truth, and Meaning,” “Rewriting Beowulf: The Task of Translation,” and “Reconceiving Beowulf: Poetry as Social Praxis” (ER).

W Apr 5      The language, style, and narrative method of Beowulf.

F Apr 7        Visualizing Beowulf through archaeology (slide lecture). Two-page paper due, comparing 2-3 different translations of the poem.


M Apr 10     The Exeter Book, I: Elegies.  C-H, “The Ruin,” “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer” (pp. 59-60 and 50-56). The Ruin,” “The Wanderer,”The Seafarer"; click here for audio link. Recommended: Whitelock, "The Interpretation of The Seafarer" (ER).

W Apr 12      The Exeter Book, II: More Elegies.  C-H, “Wulf and Eadwacer,” “The Wife’s Lament,” “The Husband’s Message” (pp. 56-59).
  “Wulf and Eadwacer,”  “The Wife’s Lament” [click here for audio link], “The Husband’s Message.”

F Apr 14        Anglo-Saxon vernacular spirituality.  C-H, “The Dream of the Rood” (pp. 200-04).  Iimages of the Ruthwell Cross, Ælfric’s “Sermon on the Sacrifice on Easter Day,” and “Blickling Homily 7” (an Easter Day sermon) (CR).   “The Dream of the Rood,”  the Ruthwell Cross and other stone sculpture (CR).   Recommended: Irving, "Crucifixion Witnessed" (ER).  Exchange drafts of paper #2 (optional).


M Apr 17    The Exeter Book, III: Riddles.  C-H, “Thirty-One Riddles,” pp. 235-50.

W Apr 19    Gnomic poetry in Anglo-Saxon.  C-H, “The Fortunes of Men,” pp. 304-06.  “Maxims I & II,” plus the Old Norse “Sayings of the High One” (CR).  Review the use of the gnomic voice in Beowulf.
  "The Fortunes of Men,"  "Maxims II."

F Apr 21     Runes and their use.  Bede, bk. IV, ch. 22 (the story of Imma).  The Ruthwell Cross, “The Rune Poem” (CR). 
the "Rune Poem" CR).  Recommended: Page, "How to Use Runes" (ER).


M Apr 24      Anglo-Saxon social history: the evidence of the laws. Extracts from the laws of King Alfred (K&L, pp. 163-70); C-H, “Laws,” pp. 24-31.  Take-home paper #2 due at the beginning of class.

W Apr 26     Anglo-Saxon social history: the evidence of charters and wills.  C-H, “Charters, Tracts and Wills” (pp. 252-66).  “Exchange of Lands” (CR).

F Apr 28      Anglo-Saxon social history: the evidence of charms and medical texts.  C-H, “Charms and Remedies” (pp. 268-77).  Selections from Anglo-Saxon Magic (CR).  Recommended: “The Æcerbot Ritual in Context” (ER).  Hand in journals.


M May 1          OPEN DATE
W May 3          OPEN DATE
F May 5            READING PERIOD
May 11             FINAL EXAMINATION, 2:45 – 4:45 pm, place to be announced.