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Old Norse Literature - ENG00131I

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Matthew Townend
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

The poetry, sagas, and myths of Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia represent one of the unexpected treasures of world literature, and have also been a major influence on many modern writers - from W.H. Auden to Seamus Heaney, J.R.R. Tolkien to Neil Gaiman.

Mostly collected or composed in Iceland, there are three main genres of writing in Old Norse, all of which will be sampled in this module: Eddic verse, which comprises mythological poetry about the Norse gods (e.g. Odin, Thor, etc) and heroic poetry about Germanic heroes (e.g. Sigurd the dragon-slayer); skaldic verse, which represents courtly praise-poetry for Viking Age kings; and the Icelandic sagas themselves, gripping and stylish tales set in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Texts to be studied will include the mythological and legendary poems of the Edda, and also Njal’s Saga, Grettir’s Saga, and Egil’s Saga (York itself was the capital of the Viking kingdom in England, and Egil’s Saga records the adventures of one warrior-poet at the court of King Eric Bloodaxe). Recurrent themes and concerns will include pagan myth and heroic legend, conversion and Christianization, migration and settlement, gender and society, feud and violence, and the relationship between orality and literary tradition. Most texts will be read in translation, but the module will also include instruction, from scratch, in the fundamentals of the Old Norse language, and this will be an important element in the course.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aim of this module is to introduce students to some of the richness and variety of Old Norse literature, both poetry and prose, and to develop a basic reading knowledge of the language.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with the a number of core Old Norse texts and the major genres of Old Norse literature.

  2. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with the historical and cultural contexts of Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia (especially Iceland).

  3. Examine key debates and critical contexts in studying a remote and different culture.

  4. Develop arguments and ideas which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.

  5. Demonstrate a basic knowledge of Old Norse, and an understanding of some of the key issues at stake in the act of translation.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2500 words
8 hours 70
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Old Norse Literature Exam
4 hours 30

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in week 1 of the summer term, to help with your preparation for the week 7 summative essay. Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 2500 words
8 hours 70
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Old Norse Literature Exam
4 hours 30

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment


Indicative reading

Full details of the texts studied on this module will be given, and may include: The Poetic Edda, Njal’s Saga, Grettir’s Saga, and Egil’s Saga.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.