Old Saxon: Heliand and Genesis

Read and translate the major works of Old Saxon literature in this language seminar.

DURATION: 12 weeks
ID: LNGC 5303

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.


Paul Peterson
Director of the Graduate School of Language and Literature; Lecturer; Preceptor
Nelson Goering
Nelson Goering
Lecturer; Preceptor

Prerequisite: At least one of the following is a prerequisite: Introduction to Old English, Beowulf in Old English, Introduction to Germanic Philology I, Introduction to Germanic Philology II, or instructor permission.

The Old Saxon language serves as a useful bridge between Old English and the continental West Germanic languages like Old High German and Old Low Franconian (Old Dutch). However, the language is often understudied in the English-speaking world due to its continental origin, and too often has fallen into the “German-only” branch of study within Germanic philology. Old Saxon preserves a remarkable 9th-century literary poem known as the Hêliand (that is, the Savior), a long, syncretic reworking of the Gospels into a style of Germanic alliterative verse usually reserved for heroic poetry. Similarly, the poem fashioned much of the Gospel narrative into a more familiar Old Saxon cultural milieu, in some ways transforming Christ and his disciples into a Germanic chieftain and his thanes. The surviving manuscripts are fairly easy to read, and there will be considerable attention paid in this course to learning how to read the texts from the original manuscripts. In addition to the Hêliand, parts of the Old English poem Genesis were originally composed in Old Saxon, which scholars labeled Genesis B (the bulk of the poem was labeled Genesis A), and fragments of the original Old Saxon text have survived. The Hêliand and Genesis are the only survivors of the unique poetic output of Old Saxon, and excerpts of both texts will be studied in depth in this course.

This course has a prerequisite, though a slightly flexible one, and is designed to be taken after at least one semester of Old English or Germanic Philology, and assumes familiarity with translating related Germanic languages (especially medieval forms of West Germanic languages, such as Old English or Old High German). The coursework most heavily involves preparing translations of Old Saxon texts into modern English, followed by reading secondary scholarship, taking a midterm exam and a final exam, and delivering one oral presentation in the second half of the course on a linguistic or cultural/literary topic. The overall aim of the course is to acquire advanced reading knowledge of the Old Saxon language, particularly through the Hêliand and Genesis.

Weekly Schedule

This language seminar includes two live 1.5-hour discussion sessions per week as assigned (3 hours total weekly).

Course Schedule

Coming soon

Required Texts

Further required readings will be provided in class.

Optional Text: Murphy 1995, The Saxon Savior: The Germanic Transformation of the Gospel in the Ninth-Century Heliand

Course History

This Course has been offered in the following semesters.

Old Saxon: Heliand and Genesis
Spring 2022Dr. Paul Peterson & Dr. Nelson Goering