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Wuffing Education

History, Legend and Archaeology in Beowulf

Sutton Hoo, January 2009 (Sam Newton)

with Professor Tom Shippey

at Tranmer House, Sutton Hoo (map)
on Saturday 28th March 2009

The Danish equivalent to the site at Sutton Hoo is the little village of Gamle Lejre. In legend, this was the home of the Skjoldung or Scylding kings, whom Beowulf rescued from Grendel, but for many years historians have discounted the legends as baseless. They were wrong. Archaeologists have recently excavated three massive halls on the site, showing continuous inhabitation for centuries before and into the Viking Age.

What else in the legends is historical, and is there a geopolitical context for Beowulf - perhaps explaining why an English epic is so fascinated by pre-Viking Denmark?

Provisional Programme
  10.00 Coffee on arrival  
  10.15 Beowulf and the Origins of England - the much-denied historicity of the poem, with particular interest in the evidence of names, such as the folk-names Wendl(e) and Eorl(e).  
  11.15 Coffee  
  11.45 The Legend of Lejre - the surprising new archaeological evidence from Denmark and an overview of the surprisingly copious literary evidence about Gammel Lejre.  
  12.45 Lunch break  
  14:00 The Origin, Preservation and Reception of the Poem
- why has the poem been such a “contested site”? The consensus opinion, the challenges to it, the often bad-tempered responses to the challenges (why?), and two alternative hypotheses of origin of Beowulf.
  15:00 Tea break  
  15:15 Text and Turf: Beowulf and Sutton Hoo - a Beowulf-guided walk over the barrows of Sutton Hoo (weather permitting – if not, we’ll have a virtual tour).  
  16:15 Close  

About Professor Tom Shippey

Tom Shippey has just retired from the Walter J. Ong Chair in Saint Louis University, Missouri, USA, after holding several posts in the UK. He is well-known for his three books on Tolkien, and his career has tracked Tolkien's in several respects: both attended King Edward's, Birmingham; both taught Old and Middle English at Oxford; and both held the same Chair of English Language at Leeds - Tolkien in the 1920s, Shippey in the 1980s. They share a deep antipathy to literary critics and university administrations, and a keen interest in fantasy, science fiction, and other non-canonical forms of writing. Besides the books on Tolkien, he has published several on Old English, three "alternate history" novels set in Anglo-Saxon East Anglia, and several anthologies, including The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories (Oxford 1994).

Some suggestions for further reading
(useful but not essential)

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)
Alexander, M., Beowulf: A Glossed Text (Penguin Classics 1995, 2000)
Bjork, R.E., & J.D.Niles (eds), A Beowulf Handbook (Nebraska University 1997)
Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974)
Fulk, R. (ed.), Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology (Indiana University 1991)
Garmonsway, G., and J.Simpson, Beowulf and Its Analogues (Dent 1968, 1980)
Jones, G. (tr.), Eirik the Red and other Icelandic Sagas (Oxford 1961) – especially the last one in this edition, “The Saga of King Hrolf and his Champions”.
Jones, G., A History of the Vikings, (Oxford 1968) – especially chapter 1
Mitchell, B., & F.Robinson, A Guide to Old English (Blackwell 1986-2001)
Newton, S., The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia (Brewer 1993)
Niles, John D. (ed.), Beowulf and Lejre, Arizona Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies (Tempe, Arizona 2007)
Shippey, T. A., J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Harper Collins, 2000)
Shippey, T. A., The Road to Middle-earth (Allen & Unwin 1982; rev. ed. Harper Collins 2003)
Tolkien, J.R.R., Finn and Hengest: the Fragment and the Episode, ed. Alan Bliss (Allen & Unwin 1982)
Wilson, R., The Lost Literature of Medieval England (Methuen 1952, 1970)


Please phone or email to check the availability of places and then send the application form and a cheque for £38, payable to Wuffing Education to:

Wuffing Education,
4 Hilly Fields,
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4DX
(tel : 01394 386498)

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