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01-Medieval Adventures

Late medieval English literature abounds with adventures, quests, journeys, and knights errant. However, students of early medieval English literature only encounter Beowulf. Even the word “adventure” appears only later in Middle English, not in the Anglo-Saxon period that preceded it. In this course, we will consider the adventure from an Anglo-Saxon perspective. Students will gain experience in the Old English language (spoken and written in England from approximately 450 to 1100 AD) and in literary analysis and research. Students will take a translation exam and write several short thought papers and a final research paper. Previous Old English experience is not required for the course.

This class emphasizes the role of gender and race in adventuring. Who can adventure and who must remain at home? What kinds of adventures do men and women have? What kinds of people adventure and what kinds of people are encountered? What is the role of race in the idea of the exotic, the monstrous, and the unfamiliar? We will translate numerous stories, including the story of St. Helen finding the Cross, seafarers landing on an island that turns out to be a whale, St. Juliana fighting a demon, Alexander the Great's travels in India, a flying swarm of swamp demons dragging St. Guthlac to the gates of hell, and St. Andrew traveling with Jesus (disguised as a ship's helmsman) to rescue St. Matthew from the cannibalistic Mermedonians. We will also read translations of Irish and Old Norse adventures, including the Saga of Grettir, who fights undead creatures and becomes an outlaw in Iceland. Alongside these primary sources, we will read secondary scholarship on gender, race, and travel in the period.

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