Beowulf -- Revisiting the First Classic of English Literature, and Some Modern Renderings

Dates:April 20 - May 11, 2021
Meets:Tu from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, 4 sessions
Hours:8.00
Location:Online Zoom
Instructor:George Scheper
Fee: $140.00

Tues., April 20-May 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m. EST

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Course Description

For our adventure into Beowulf, the instructor will be using the modern translation by Seamus Heaney, but students may choose to read Beowulf in any modern translation of their choice (a list of recommended translations will be supplied by the instructor). While it would obviously be best to read the work in its entirety, students can profit from the course by just reading key passages selected for discussion, along with other brief materials providing historical background and literary context. We'll begin with a look at the cultural world of far northern Europe, as it was in the period of the story's historical setting in the sixth century, and in the period of the poem's composition in Old English in the eighth century, including a focus on the greatest archaeological discovery in British history, the Sutton Hoo Viking burial ship in East Anglia, whose contents contain innumerable parallels to the weapons and other artifacts described in Beowulf. We then embark on discussion of the major episodes of the poem, its Nordic settings and imagery, and a survey of the many interpretations of key figures and actions. Is Beowulf a story of heroic courage and valor? of tragic self-sacrifice? of pride and over-reaching? of a war on civilization? or a human/ trans-human culture clash? - or all of, or none of, the above? Along the way, we look at two modern retellings of the story, John Gardner's Grendel, and Maria Hendley's The Mere Wife.