Choice of Textbook

Introduction to Old English was the main text we used in this course. It is user friendly, does not assume extensive background knowledge, and moves students quickly into translating. I used A Guide to Old English as a reference work. It helped to have both books because they contain different texts. I also used—and loved—Word-Hoard, a vocabulary book containing over 200 of the most common word groups in Old English poetry. Each word group has a paragraph or two of comparative etymologies indicating cognates with Latin, Greek, and so on, along with an explanation of semantic relationships between various words that are derived from one another. For students with a background in another Indo-European language or who were interested in etymology, this text offers a much more interesting way of learning vocabulary than just rote memorization.

The other really interesting book I used was The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation. One neat feature of this book is that it contains a translation of every Anglo-Saxon poem that exists, excluding the lengthier Beowulf. The second special feature is that actual poets—not scholars—have translated the poems. As an Anglo-Saxonist, I occasionally thought, “My God! This translation is terrible!,” while other translations seemed awesome or just kooky. These variations created an opportunity for rich discussion as students compared their own translations with those of the poets. This facilitated conversations about concepts central to translation, such as literalism versus flexibility.