In an MIT OpenCourseWare video, Associate Professor of Literature Arthur Bahr read aloud two different passages from classic tales in their original forms. The first was from Beowulf in its original Old English. The second passage Bahr read from was Gawayne and the Green Knight in its original Middle English. Both readings are from Bahr’s 2014 course titled “Great Authors: Old English and Beowolf” and are a far cry from the English that is spoken today.
After learning the basics of grammar and vocabulary, we will read not just excerpts from the great Beowulf but also heartrending laments (The Wanderer, The Wife’s Lament), an account of the Crucifixion as narrated by the Cross itself (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.