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This video provides a peek into Old and Middle English.  Old English and the epic Beowulf are the focus of this course.

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

hƿæt ƿe gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon…

Those are the first words of the Old English epic Beowulf, and in this class you will learn to read them.

Besides being the language of Rohan in the novels of Tolkien, Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon) is a language of long, cold, and lonely winters; of haunting beauty found in unexpected places; and of unshakable resolve in the face of insurmountable odds.

It is, in short, the perfect language for MIT students.

After learning the basics of grammar and vocabulary, we will read not just excerpts from the great Beowulf but also heartrending laments (The Wanderer, The Wife's Lament), an account of the Crucifixion as narrated by the Cross itself (The Dream of the Rood), and a host of riddles whose solutions range from the sacred to the obscene but are always ingenious. We will also try our hand at composing our own sentences—and maybe even poems—in Old English.

Daily Vocab Quizzes 15
Exam 1 15
Exam 2 15
Final Exam 30
Participation 25


Unit 1: Old English Grammar
1 Course introduction; preliminary discussion of case system and pronunciation  
2 Pronunciation, grammar review, and the case system; word-formation Vocab quiz
3 Pronouns Vocab quiz
4 Nouns Vocab quiz
5–6 Verbs Vocab quiz
7 Adjectives, numerals, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions Vocab quiz; Mock exam 1 distributed
8 Concord and word order; discussion of mock exam 1 Vocab quiz; Mock exam 1 due before Lec 8
9 Exam 1 – Cases, declension of pronouns, noun, and verb form recognition Exam
Unit 2: Prose and Short Poems
10–11  Ælfric, Preface to Genesis; syntax Vocab quiz
12 Meter and poetic style; Bede's account of the poet Caedmon Vocab quiz
13 The grammar of poetry; reading Old English manuscripts; Bede's account of the poet Caedmon, continued Vocab quiz
14 The Wife's Lament Vocab quiz
15 The Husband's Message Vocab quiz; Mock exam 2 distributed
16 Riddles; discussion of mock exam 2 Vocab quiz; Mock exam 2 due before Lec 16
17 Exam 2 – Vocabulary and translation, both seen and sight passages Exam
Unit 3: Longer Poems
18–19 The Dream of Rood
Vocab quiz
20 Beowolf (Seamus Heaney translation) Vocab quiz
21 Beowolf, The Fight with Grendel Vocab quiz
22 Beowolf, The Death of Grendel Vocab quiz
23 Beowolf, The Death of Æschere Vocab quiz
24 Beowolf, The Lay of the Last Survivor and Beowolf's Funeral–congratulations, you now know the 2000 most commonly used words of Old English poetry!!! Vocab quiz
25 Final Exam Exam