HUM-H390 — Saints, Sinners and Swords: Medieval European Literature — winter 2017–2018

This table shows what you should do for each classday; all work should be completed before the start of class on the date for which it’s listed. To put it another way, tests are listed on the day they will be given and assignments on the day they are due.

Week Two
Monday, 4 December Read Lines 1 through 1250 of Beowulf.
Think about How is the character Beowulf introduced and how does this affect you as a reader? What does Grendel look like? What are his characteristics and how do we know? What do we know about him and what do we not know? Why do you think Beowulf insists on fighting Grendel alone and hand-to-hand, without weaponry? Do you find the fight scene to be exciting, anti-climactic or something else? What did you like and not like about today’s reading and why?
Assignment Find one word or a short group of words (not a proper noun, such as a character’s name) in the Old English text, that you can recognize. Write the word, its modern equivalent, and the line number where you found it, and bring it to class to turn in. This should not take more than 10 minutes. Be careful, since sometimes words in Old English end up spelled just like modern English words, but do not mean the same thing at all. Be sure to check the translation to be reasonably certain you have found a word that has only changed a little in the past 1000 years or so.
Tuesday, 5 December Read Lines 1251 through 1904 of Beowulf.
Think about What importance do you think Unferth has in the story? Look at lines 1417–1421 in our translation; how does word order affect your perception what is being communicated here? Do you have any thoughts about metallurgy in relation to today’s reading? How does the use of kennings affect you as a reader?
Assignment Find a kenning, write it, the line number where you found it, and the noun it is replacing, and bring it to class to turn in. (It can be from any part of the poem, including parts not in today’s reading, but you cannot use whale-road, meaning sea from line 10.)
Thursday, 7 December Read Lines 1905 to the end of Beowulf.
Think about What women or other female characters are there in this poem? How would you characterize their role(s)? What’s the big deal with litotes (a rhetorical figure in which a positive statement is replaced by the negation of its opposite)? What does it matter if I say: “His salute this time from the top of the cliff / was far from unmannerly…” [lines 1892–1893] instead of saying something like: “His salute this time from the top of the cliff / was indeed very mannerly…”? What is your reaction to the mention of slavery (line 2223)? What is your reaction to the textual lacunae around line 2230? How do you feel about Beowulf’s last wish? In your opinion, what is the effect of so much foreshadowing through the three parts of the poem?
Assignment Find one example of the rhetorical device litotes in the text, copy the sentence and line number(s). It does not need to be from today’s part of the poem, it can be from anywhere in the poem. Obviously, you may not use the example cited above. This is a written assignment; you will need to do it before class and turn it in during class.
Friday, 8 December Read? (There may be a short additional reading for today, depending on how things are going.)
Think about In what ways does Beowulf conform to the category of epic? Are there ways in which it does not conform to that category? What is the role of fate in this poem? Is there any evidence in the poem itself of oral transmission (as opposed to written transmission) of knowledge?
Assignment Name two things (besides slaying Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon) that Beowulf does right, or well, or which you would consider to be exemplary conduct. That’s the easy part. Now the hard part. What, if anything, does he do wrong, poorly, or in an unexemplary way? If you can’t think of anything, that’s OK, but try to think of something, like in the stereotypical job interview where they ask you about your weaknesses. (You are permitted to put the slaying of Grendel, Grendel’s mother and / or the dragon in this category if you can explain your reasoning.) This is a written assignment; you will need to do it before class and turn it in during class.