hƿæt ƿe gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon…
Those are the first words of the Old English epic Beowulf, and in this class you will learn to read them.
Besides being the language of Rohan in the novels of Tolkien, Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon) is a language of long, cold, and lonely winters; of haunting beauty found in unexpected places; and of unshakable resolve in the face of insurmountable odds. It is, in short, the perfect language for MIT students.
We will read greatest hits from the epic Beowulf as well as moving laments (The Wanderer, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife’s Lament), the personified Cross’s psychedelic and poignant account of the Crucifixion (The Dream of the Rood), and a host of riddles whose solutions range from the sacred to the obscene but are always ingenious. We will also try our hand at composing our own sentences—and maybe even poems—in Old English.