Beowulf in Old English

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.

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 focus on preparing and translating the entire poem from Old English during twice-weekly meetings.

Course Schedule

Beowulf in Old English will meet twice weekly for a 90-minute preceptor-led discussion session (three hours total per week).

Prior Reading

Students are advised to read at least one modern language translation of Beowulf of their choice before the start of the class.

Week 1: Opening and Background (114 lines)

  • Launching the Hero: The Case of Scyld and Beowulf (King, 2003)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1-52
    • Second session: 53-114

Week 2: To Heorot (216 lines)

  • Principles of Conversation in Beowulfian Speech (Shippey, 1993)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 115-229
    • Second session: 230-331a

Week 3: Welcome and Challenge (275 lines)

  • The Germanic Context of the Unferþ Episode (Clover, 1980)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 331b-455
    • Second session: 456-606

Week 4: Grendel, Celebration (317 lines)

  • Cain’s Monstrous Progeny in Beowulf – Parts I & II (Mellinkoff 1979, 1980)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 607-790
    • Second session: 791-924

Week 5: Joy to Sorrow (325 lines)

  • “The Argument of Courage: Beowulf and Other Heroic Poetry,” Ch. 2 of Old English Verse (Shippey, 1972)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 925-1124
    • Second session: 1125-1250

Week 6: Grendel’s Mother (354 lines)

  • Her Own Hall: Grendel’s Mother as King (Hennequin, 2017)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1251-1441a
    • Second session: 1441b-1605a

Week 7: Advice and Departure (319 lines)

  • Historicity and Anachronism in Beowulf (Russom, 2010)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1605b-1768
    • Second session: 1769-1924

Week 8: Looking Backward and Forward (275 lines)

  • Dating Beowulf to the Viking Age (Fulk, 1982)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 1925-2069a
    • Second session: 2069b-2200

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

  • “The Jural World in Beowulf,” Ch. 3 of The Cultural World in Beowulf (Hill, 1995)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 2201-2354a
    • Second session: 2354b-2509

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

  • The Audience of Beowulf, Part 11 (Whitelock, 1951)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 2510-2630
    • Second session: 2631-2751

Week 11: Rebuke and Foreboding (275 lines)

  • Geatish History: Poetic Art an Epic Quality in Beowulf (Greenfield, 1963)
  • Lines to be translated
    • First session: 2752-2891
    • Second session: 2892-3027

Week 12: Beowulf’s Funeral (154 lines)

  • “The Fourth Funeral: Beowulf’s Complex Obsequies,” Ch. 5 of The Four Funerals of Beowulf (Owen-Crocker, 2000)
  • 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 to registered students. The Amazon links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish.

Required Text

Suggested Texts:

Course Artwork

Course artwork was created by Alicia Fox-Lenz.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Fall 2024Dr. Paul Peterson & Dr. Nelson Goering
Fall 2021Dr. Nelson Goering, Dr. Paul Peterson & Dr. Larry Swain
Summer 2019Dr. Larry Swain & Dr. Nelson Goering
Fall 2017Dr. Nelson Goering
Fall 2016Dr. Nelson Goering & Dr. Karl Persson
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.

START: August 26, 2024

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LNGC 5302