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Myths of Origins (EN2008 & EN3008)

Summer Reading List 2016-17

Course Tutor: Dr Helen McKee

Wes þu hal!

Students sometimes find this course a bit daunting at first, but you can make it a lot easier for yourself if you do a bit of preparation for it over the summer.  I suggest that, if you can’t do anything else, read all the set texts in translation (I list them below).  Some of them are very short. We will only cover a small portion of the longer ones, but it’s still really useful for you to know what happens in the whole text.  

If you’ve got a bit more time to spare, have a look at the background reading listed below.  The library has very kindly bought digital editions of many of these, so you can access them very easily from home.  

Finally, if you find yourself still looking for things to do, the Moodle site will be up and running in July, and there will be suggestions for specific critical reading there, as well as lots of details about the course, including the specific passages that we will cover.  I’m also happy to supply further suggestions; feel free to email me: helen.mckee@rhul.ac.uk.

A word of advice: Some students sit down and translate the set passages for this course over the summer.  I’m very impressed by this; it’s hard work to do this by yourself, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from working hard!  However, I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by trying to do this work without the benefit of the grammar and vocabulary that I will be teaching you, and without the feedback in the seminars.  So don’t feel that this is the best way to prepare for the course!  Rather, it’s best to familiarise yourself with the ideas and the context.  I will help you with the language when the course begins.

Required Textbook:

If you haven’t already purchased this, please buy:

  • Marsden, Richard, ed., The Cambridge Old English Reader, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Set Texts:

Try to read these works in translation before the course starts, and don’t worry: we only translate parts of the long ones!

  • Caedmon’s Hymn (a nice short one--but the story that surrounds it is interesting, too!)
  • Bede’s story of the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons (in the Old English version of hisEcclesiastical History of the English People)
  • Beowulf (Scyld Scefing and the creation of Heorot)
  • The Battle of Brunanburh
  • Genesis A (the creation narrative) (this one isn’t so easy to find in anthologies)
  • Genesis B (Satan’s rebellion)
  • Deor

You can find all of these in Bradley, and many of them in other anthologies (see Suggestions for Reading, below). There are, of course, lots of versions on the internet, too, but you can never be sure that the translator knows what he or she is doing!  Be careful!


Sooner or later, you will want to check up on Marsden’s glosses, and you will need a dictionary.  This is the easiest (and cheapest) one to find (in physical form, at least):

  • Clark Hall, J. R., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 4th edn with a supplement by Herbert T. Merritt, Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching, 14 (1894; Toronto, Buffalo, and London: University of Toronto Press, 1960)

Some Suggestions for Background Reading:

Here are a few anthologies in which you can find translations of our set texts:

  • Bradley, S. A. J. (trans.), Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: Dent, 1982).  [821.108 BRA]

[This is an anthology of most Old English poems.  If you read through this, you’ll know the whole poetic tradition!].  [available on Amazon for £8.90 for a paperback and £4.31 for the Kindle edition!]

  • Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans.,The Anglo-Saxon World (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1982)
  • David, Alfred and James Simpson, eds,  The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume A: The Middle Ages, 8th edn (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2006)
  • Delanty, Greg and Michael Matto, eds,The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation , foreword by Seamus Heaney (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011)
  • Gordon, R. K., trans., Anglo-Saxon Poetry, rev. edn (London: Dent, 1954)
  • Kennedy, Charles W., trans.,An Anthology of Old English Poetry,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960)

The following are very good sources for understanding our texts in context:

  • Godden, Malcolm and Michael Lapidge, eds.,The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)   [821.9 CAM]  [also available online through the library ]
  • Fulk, R. D. and Christopher M. Cain,A History of Old English Literature (Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).   [821.9 FUL]  [also available online through the library]
  • Liuzza, R. M. (ed.),Old English Literature: Critical Essays (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002).   [821.9 OLD]   [also available online through the library]

If you want a structured approach to the grammar, you might find one of the following useful:

  • Baker, Peter S., Introduction to Old English , 2nd edn (2003; Oxford: Blackwell, 2007)   [429 BAK]  [also available online through the library ]
  • Mitchell, B. and Fred C. Robinson,A Guide to Old English , 8th edn (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)   [429.5 MIT]  [also available online through the library ]









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