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E 397: Barbarian Literature

Spring 2017. MonWed, 2:30 - 3:45 pm in South College W211
(Campus Map.)


Description. The ancient pagan cultures of Northern Europe produced bodies of literature that continue to inspire writers today. From the divinities of Valhalla to the underground realms of fairies to the cattle raids of Ulster to the soporific effects of elf shot—stories and motifs were woven into the warp and weft of Western art. Even as Christianity and Roman power succeeded to dominance, the traditions and stories of these ancient cultures flourished.

This course introduces you to the languages and cultures of the European past that flourished alongside the Roman Empire. We will read Old Irish, Welsh, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old Saxon, and Middle High German poetry in English translation. We will also learn bits and pieces of each of their languages.

Objectives: this course promises 1) a general background knowledge of the ancient Germanic and Celtic world; 2) an overview of the earliest vernacular cultures of Western Europe; and 3) familiarity with some of their major literary monuments. Plus, you will learn to write your name in runes!

Please read this trigger warning about the course.


Books will be available at Amherst Books. Some readings are free online through UMass. Total cost for books is under $50.00. We are using:

  • Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (Stanford, 1993), ISBN 0804722218. Paperback. About $20.00. [Amazon link]
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Ancient Germanic Literatures (Arizona, 2014), ISBN 0866985093. Paperback. About $30.00. [Amazon link]
  • The Táin, trans. Thomas Kinsella (Oxford, 1969). ISBN 0192803733. Paperback. About $9.00 to $15.00. [Amazon link]
  • Edda, Snorri Sturluson (trans. Anthony Faulkes). ISBN 0460876163, Paperback. About $9.00. [Amazon link]

Free Books:

Please check back often for updates to this list. You can see the update time on the left-hand side of this page. The syllabus will be set to go on 1/18/2016.


We will spend most of our time talking about the readings. Please ensure that you have read the work assigned for the day. I will provide a guide for your reading which you can prepare beforehand.

Each segment of the course is similar. We will spend one week on history and language and two weeks on literature.

The schedule is to your right. Click on any date to see what is due that day.


20% of the grade is attendance and participation. Participation includes formal presentations known as "leads."

80% of your grade is writing. This comprises 1) a final paper worth 30% of the grade; 2) for each of the five cultural modules, you will produce a) a short expository paper of 1000 words (8% x 4), b) a translation of a poem (2% x 4), and c) a 300-word paper on a philologist or philological topic (1% x 4).

Grading Scale: A (92–100); A- (90, 91); B+ (87–89); B (82–86); B- (80, 81); C+ (77–79); C (72–76); C- (70, 71); D+ (67–69); D (62–66); D- (60, 61); F (0–59).


Attendance is required. Why bother enrolling in college otherwise? My complete Attendance policy here. Although written for another course, it applies equally to this one.

Late Assignments are not accepted. Make provisions beforehand and speak with me if you anticipate obstacles to punctuality. I will accept officially excused absences.

Electronic devices are unwelcome, but may be used for reference. Please don't browse the internet, use Facebook, play games, or email during class. It is extremely distracting to me and to other students, who are paying real money to be in the class.

Conferences. I encourage you to meet with me at least once during the semester, if only to verify that the grades that you have correspond to the ones in my gradebook.

Office Hours. About eight students in 20 years showed up to office hours. So, I don't keep office hours. I am usually found in my office MW. (Please let me know beforehand if you want to meet—I may be busy when you pop by, or teaching, or at a meeting.) Otherwise, please make an appointment to meet with me at a time convenient to you and I will certainly try to oblige. My office in in South College (across from the Library), E455 on the northeast hallway


The University requires you to act and write with the highest degree of integrity. Ignorance of the standards of academic integrity is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent. For more information, consult the website of the Dean of Students.

See below (Note 4) for more information.


NOTE 1: Please make and keep a copy of all your assignments. In case any difficulties arise with respect to misplaced assignments or with respect to discrepancies between your records and my own, I will accept the evidence of your computer system's dating function. For your own peace of mind, I suggest that you lock any document on the day it is due. That will prevent your system from associating your document with a later date.

NOTE 2: The schedule of this course is subject to change. It is not to be construed as a substitute for your attendance or as a catalogue of all the information for which you are responsible. All changes will be announced beforehand. This syllabus and the accompanying schedule constitute a binding contract between a student and professor. If you do not agree with any of the provisions set herein and as of this moment, then you are free to drop this class within the time allotted by the administration.

NOTE 3: All material pertaining to this course is copyrighted material and is subject to international and US laws of copyright. No recording devices, please.

NOTE 4: Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. The procedures outlined below are intended to provide an efficient and orderly process by which action may be taken if it appears that academic dishonesty has occurred and by which students may appeal such actions.

Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent. For more information about what constitutes academic dishonesty, please see the Dean of Students’ website at:

NOTE 5: Disability Statement. [Text from CTFD] The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to making reasonable, effective and appropriate accommodations to meet the needs of students with disabilities and help create a barrier-free campus. If you are in need of accommodation for a documented disability, register with Disability Services to have an accommodation letter sent to your faculty. It is your responsibility to initiate these services and to communicate with faculty ahead of time to manage accommodations in a timely manner. For more information, consult the Disability Services website at


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Academic Schedule


UMass Library
Google Books
Search Anglo-Saxon Poetry
Old English Newsletter Bib
Anglo-Saxon Bibliography

Old Norse Saga Database
Norse Saga Net
Viking Ship Museum

Germanic Lexicon Project
Bosworth-Toller (partial)
The Labyrinth
Medieval Sourcebook
Anglo-Saxon Charters
Siever's Heliand
Bible (Douay-Rheims)
Dumézil, Norse Gods
Klaeber, Beowulf

Manuscripts of St. Gall


Warning! Jingoistic anti-Roman revisionism, but nevertheless informative:

VIDEO: The Ancient Celts
VIDEO: The Goths
VIDEO: The Barbarian Tribes