Beowulf in Old English

Beowulf in Old English – taught by Nelson Goering & Karl Persson

This intensive, seminar-style class will give students an opportunity to practice translating the Old English language and to become intimately familiar with the Beowulf text.

DURATION: 12 weeks
ID: LNGC 5302

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.


Nelson Goering
Nelson Goering
Lecturer; Preceptor
Larry Swain
Larry Swain
Board Member Faculty Representative; Lecturer; Preceptor

Prerequisite: Introduction to Old English or a comparable introductory course in Old English at another institution (subject to instructor approval)

Beowulf has long been seen as the crown jewel of early English literature, and reading it in its original language has been and remains a powerful source of inspiration for students and scholars alike, presenting an inviting blend of curiosity, wonder, earthiness, and frank speech that has nurtured a lineage of mythopoeists stretching from Tolkien to Seamus Heaney and beyond. We at Signum are therefore pleased to be able to offer what is becoming increasingly rare, an opportunity to translate and scrutinize this poem line by line.

Through intensive, seminar-style classes, students will be given an opportunity to practice their skills in translating the Old English language, as well as to become intimately familiar with this text. With its heroes, monsters, and sweepingly tragic view of worldly life, Beowulf has not only been deeply influential in Tolkien’s work, but is arguably as integral for understanding the history of English literature as Chaucer in Middle English and Shakespeare in Elizabethan English.

Course work will include a final, a term paper, a short written study on a particular word or crux in the text, as well as class participation. Preparation will involve twice-weekly translation from the poem and synthesis of assigned secondary readings.

Course Schedule

Beowulf in Old English will meet twice weekly for a two-hour preceptor-led discussion session (four hours total per week).

Prior Reading

Please have these texts read before class starts:

  • Assigned reading: Orchard 2013, ‘Beowulf’, in The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature, 2nd ed. Edited by Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge. Cambridge: University Press. Pp. 137-58. Note: This text will be provided to students prior to the start of class via the course Moodle page.
  • Supplementary reading: R.D. Fulk’s 2010 facing-page translation in the Dumbarton Oaks edition of The Beowulf Manuscript

Week 1: Opening and Background (114 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Fulk, Textual Criticism
  • Supplementary reading: Mitchell, Punctuation
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1-52
    • Second session: 53-114

Week 2: To Heorot (216 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Shippey, Conversational Principles
  • Supplementary reading: Robinson, Variation
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 115-229
    • Second session: 230-331a

Week 3: Welcome and Challenge (275 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Hill, Cultural World (excerpts)
  • Supplementary reading: Bremmer, Kinship; Shippey, Cousin Strategies
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 331b-455
    • Second session: 456-606

Week 4: Grendel, Celebration (317 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Cardew, Grendel
  • Supplementary reading: Shippey, Legend of Lejre
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 607-790
    • Second session: 791-924

Week 5: Joy to Sorrow (325 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Shippey, Argument of Courage
  • Supplementary reading: Patrick Sims-Williams, “‘Is it Fog or Smoke or Warriors Fighting?’: Irish and Welsh Parallels to the Finnsburg Fragment”
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 925-1124
    • Second session: 1125-1250

Week 6: Grendel’s Mother (354 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Overing, Women of Beowulf
  • Supplementary reading: Lionarons, Wise Women; Chance, Grendel’s Mother
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1251-1441a
    • Second session: 1441b-1605a

Week 7: Advice and Departure (319 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Russom, Historicity and Anachronism
  • Supplementary reading: Hill, Conversion History; Battaglia, Hall or Bog
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1605b-1768
    • Second session: 1769-1924

Week 8: Looking Backward and Forward (275 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Niles, Locating Beowulf; Neidorf, Germanic Legend
  • Supplementary reading: Frank, Sense of History; Fulk, Viking Age
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1925-2069a
    • Second session: 2069b-2200

Week 9: Gold: The Hoard and the Raid (308 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Bremmer, Frisians in Beowulf; Klaeber 4, Appendix A
  • Supplementary reading: Fulk and Pope, Old English Versification; Biggs, Frisian Raid
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 2201-2354a
    • Second session: 2354b-2509

Week 10: Deaths of the Dragon and Beowulf (241 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Tolkien, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics
  • Supplementary reading: Drout, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics Seventy-Five Years Later”
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 2510-2630
    • Second session: 2631-2751

Week 11: Rebuke and Foreboding (275 lines)

  • Assigned reading: Greenfield, Geatish History
  • Supplementary reading: Leyerle, Hero and King; Georgianna, Limits of Heroic Action
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 2752-2891
    • Second session: 2892-3027

Week 12: Beowulf’s Funeral (154 lines)

  • No assigned reading this week
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 3028-3109
    • Second session: 3110-3182


The required texts for this course are listed below. Additional readings will be provided on the course page after logging in. The links below lead to Amazon pages where the required texts may be purchased. Texts purchased through these links help Signum University at no additional cost to you.

Required Text

Suggested Texts:

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Beowulf in Old English Offerings
Summer 2019Dr. Nelson Goering & Dr. Larry Swain
Fall 2017Dr. Nelson Goering
Fall 2016Dr. Karl Persson

Course Artwork

Course artwork was created by Alicia Fox-Lenz.