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Old Norse - ENG00149I

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Matthew Townend
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

The poetry, myths, and sagas of the Viking Age and medieval Iceland represent one of the unexpected treasures of world literature, and have been a major influence on many modern writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Seamus Heaney, and Neil Gaiman, as well as on many other areas of modern culture, such as film and gaming.

Mostly collected or composed in Iceland, there are three main types of literature in Old Norse, all of which will feature on this module: Eddic verse, which comprises mythological poetry about the Norse gods (e.g. Odin, Thor, Freyja) and heroic poetry about legendary 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 narratives set in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Recurrent themes in the module 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 literacy. All texts will be read in translation, but the module will also include some instruction, from scratch, in the basics of the Old Norse language.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are to introduce students to the richness and variety of Old Norse literature, and to impart a knowledge of the basics of the language.

Module learning outcomes

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

  1. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of Old Norse texts and genres.

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

  3. Examine key debates and critical approaches in the study of Old Norse literature.

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

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


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : 2,000-word essay
N/A 70
Open Examination: Multiple choice questions online
Open exam : Take-home exam
N/A 30

Special assessment rules




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

The Poetic Edda

Njal’s Saga and other sagas

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.