Old English

English 601 is a basic introduction to the Old English language. The course begins slowly and methodically, with no presumptions at all about background, but by the end of the semester we will read “Cædmon”s Hymn,” “The Wanderer,” “ Deor,” and several others in the original language, and the students will be ready to tackle Beowulf on their own, with the aid only of a dictionary.

There are two general reasons for studying Old English. One is literary: certainly one of the most striking aspects of English literary history is the development of a complex written vernacular literature long before most European nations had determined what their vernacular language would be. These first five centuries of English literature can be read, however, only by those who have learned the rudiments of Old English. The other reason has to do with the language itself. In studying Old English, you are learning about the roots of the language that we now speak, and many of the oddities of our present language can be explained by reference to its origins. Students who take the course usually have had some contact with Old English, either in their medieval literature classes or in their study of the language, but those attracted only by curiosity are also welcome.

Since this is a language class, students should expect that some amount of memorization will be required and that there will be quizzes and classroom exercises, especially at the beginning. There will also be a final exam, but no paper.


Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

Required Texts:

  • Albert Marckwardt and James L. Rosier, Old English: Language and Literature (New York: Norton, 1972) (tentative selection, subject to change)
  • John C. Pope, ed, Seven Old English Poems, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1981).