World Literature (ENGL 2110)

General Resources

Click here for some notes and a basic outline of the archetypal hero quest.

The Ancient and Classical World , a web site by Prof. Joyce A. Miller at Collins County Community College in Texas.  Also, check out Prof. Miller's home page--there is quite a bit of interesting material there. 

Click HERE for a link to a page that contains links to purchase texts related to World Literature.


The Epic of Gilgamesh  

The Standard Version=7th century BC, but the story originated some two thousand years before that (~2800 BC).

Take a look at the Voice of the Shuttle's section covering classical literature .

Click here for a link to an excellent discussion called "The Origins of Storytelling."

From The Epic of Gilgamesh:
Photograph of a fragment of Tablet XI, the "Flood Tablet", inscribed in Assyrian cuneiform characters.  The detail isn't great, but you can get an idea of what the "manuscript" of this ancient epic looks like.

Homer, The Odyssey 

approximately 8th century BC

Click here for a link to a discussion about the Homeric Papyri at the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University.

Homer, Odyssey 1, 289-312 (P.Duk.inv. 768 R) 

Plato   Apology of Socrates

Approximately 390 BC

Jacque Louis David "The Death of Socrates"  click here for a link to for more information about this painting.

Click here for a link to an interesting discussion about Socrates.

Here is a very useful discussion of the Apology.  

Aristotle  Poetics

350 BC

Click here for the Philosophy Pages' discussion of Aristotle.


Click here for the  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Confucius.


Click here for a web site that contains the entire contents of the Gita.



Carl van Loo "Aeneas Carrying Anchises"

click here for more images of Aeneas on

Click here for The Virgil Home Page by Steven Hale of Dekalb College.


Click here for the Ovid Collection at the University of Virginia Electronic Text Center.

The Middle Ages

History of the Book

Incunabula is the word used to describe the early book (pre-mechanized production).  The word derives from the Latin for cradle.

A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been written on parchment, but the original writing has been scraped away in order to reuse the piece of parchment.  This was a common practice since parchment was very expensive.  Click here for PBS's interactive site about the Archimedes palimpsest, discovered in 1906.

Click here for a chronology of the history of the book.

Click here for a list of graphics included in a course entitled History of the Book at the University of Kansas.

Illuminated manuscripts were at their height of production during the 7th and 9th centuries.  The manuscripts were produced at monastaries across Europe.  One of the most elaborate and valuable of the illuminated manuscripts is the Book of Kells, which is housed at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.  Click here for pictures of what is arguably the most beautiful illuminated manuscript ever produced.

This is the illumination from the Book of Kells' Gospel of Matthew right before he begins the story of the nativity.

Song of Roland

La Chanson de Roland is the oldest surviving work in Old French. It is a chanson de geste. It is based on the real-life events of Charlemagne's (Charles the Great) battle with the Muslims and the famous Battle of Roncevalles in 778.

Click here for a good study guide to The Song of Roland from Diane Thompson at Northern Virginia Community College.

Want to know what happened in the rest of The Song of Roland?  Click here for Laissez 162-233.
Click here for Laissez 234-end.

Click here for more Song of Roland resources courtesy of Professor Joanne Viano of the University of Pittsburgh.

'The death of Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux, from an illustrated manuscript, 1455–1460" (

1001 Nights

Click here for John Crocker's Arabian Nights Resouce Centre.  


Shahnameh is the Persian Book of Kings. It is an epic that spans many generations and is the history of pre-Muslim Persia, what is now Iran. Persia became officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1935.

Like many other epics, Shahnameh has inspired the work of many artists. Here is a page about the comic book series based on The Persian Book of Kings.

Here is a site dedicated to the Shahnameh. Here is an introduction to the epic. Here are some illustrations from Shahnameh.

Here is an article about the Persian Book of Kings.

Here is a page of Persian art. Here is a page of ancient Persian rug images.

Here is an image of one of the full-texts of the work. Notice the detailed artwork--even the background is highly decorated. Each of the motifs means something, just as they do in Persian rugs:

Here is the Wikipedia page on Pesian art, which explains some of the motifs in the art and why those motifs are important.


The Catholic Church is the foundation of the Christian faith.  Since we will be working on many pieces that presume a working knowledge of Catholic Church history and doctrine, here are some resources to help you to understand the many concepts we will discuss in the next several weeks.

The best source for information about the Catholic Church, its history, doctrines, saints, etc. is the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Click here for the entire text of Philip Schaff's book entitled History of the Catholic Church.

Medieval Mystery Plays

During the Middle Ages, daily life was very much dominated by the Church and the Church calendar.  Entertainments consisted of stories told at home or readings from the Bible.  In England, the Feast of Corpus Christi (about 2 months after Easter Sunday) was celebrated with plays performed by the guilds.  The plays were scenes from the Bible performed on carts.  The carts, which were probably not unlike parade floats, each had a separate play being performed.  Several of the stories were taken from the Apocryphal Gospels (gospels that were not included in the Bible as we know it today).  The Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate) is one of the Apocryphal Gospels, and the one from which we get the story of the Harrowing of Hell.  Click here for the text of the Gospel of Nicodemus that includes the story of Christ's Descent into Hell.  Click here for the texts of the Towneley plays, one of the important mystery play cycles.  Click here for the official page of the York Mystery Plays, which contains quite a bit of information about the plays.  I highly recommend this site for its wealth of information, pictures, and music.  Click here for the official site of the Lichfield mystery plays.  Click here for the official site of the Chester mystery plays.

Here is the description of the plays, which are known as mystery plays, from the Catholic Encyclopedia ( :


"There is no record of any religious drama in England previous to the Norman Conquest. About the beginning of the twelfth century we hear of a play of St. Catharine performed at Dunstable by Geoffroy, later abbot of St. Albans, and a passage in Fitzstephen's "Life of Becket" shows that such plays were common in London about 1170. These were evidently "miracle plays",though for England the distinction between miracles and mysteries is of no importance, all religious plays being called "miracles". Of miracle plays in the strict sense of the word nothing is preserved in English literature. The earliest religious plays were undoubtedly in Latin and French. The oldest extant miracle in English is the "Harrowing of Hell" (thirteenth century). Its subject is the apocryphal descent of Christ to the hell of the damned, and it belongs to the cycle of Easter-plays. From the fourteenth century dates the play of "Abraham and Isaac". A great impetus was again given to the religious drama in England as elsewhere by the institution of the festival of Corpus Christi (1264; generally observed since 1311) with its solemn processions. Presently the Eastern and Christmas cycles were joined into one great cycle representing the whole course of sacred history from the Creation to the Last Judgment. Thus arose the four great cycles still extant and known as the Towneley, Chester, York, and Coventry plays, the last three designated from the place of their performance. The Towneley mysteries owe their name to the fact that the single manuscript in which they are preserved was long in the possession of the Towneley family. They were performed, it seems, at Woodkirk, near Wakefield. These cycles are very heterogeneous in character, the plays being by different authors. In their present form the number of plays in the cycles is: Towneley 30 (or 31), Chester 24, York 48 Coventry 42. Four other plays are also preserved in the Digby codex at Oxford. The so called "moralities" (q. v.) are a later offshoot of the "miracles". These aim at the inculcation of ethical truths and the dramatis personae are abstract personifications, such as Virtue, Justice, the Seven Deadly Sins, etc. The character called "the Vice" is especially interesting as being the precursor of Shakespeare's fool. After the Reformation the miracle plays declined, though performances in some places are on record as late as the seventeenth century."

Dante Alghieri , The Divine Comedy:  Inferno

Click HERE for the University of Texas' page entitled Dante Worlds, which contains some excellent study guides for The Divine Comedy.

Ever wondered what Hell looks like?  Here's an illustration that accompanied one of the 16th century publications of Dante's Divine Comedy:

Click here for an image of Hieronymous Bosch's painting entitled The Last Judgement. Click here for Bosch's Paradise and Hell.  

Click here for Columbia University's page entitled Digital Dante

This is Dore's illustration of the devils in the pitch in Level 8 of Hell.  This section of Inferno is known as the Gargoyle Canto.
Click here for more of Gustave Dore's illustrations of Inferno.

Here is William Blake's illustration entitled The Whirlwind of Lovers, from Canto V, "the carnal."

Click HERE for a link to pictures of some of Blake's other illustrations of Dante.


Click here for a link to the Decameron Web, a site hosted by Brown University.  

Old and Middle English

Beowulf is one of the most important pieces of literature in English. It is the oldest stry written in Old English, the Germanic language that would evolve into modern English. The story of Beowulf is related to the Norse sagas in several ways: there are snippets of the well-known Norse stories throughout Beowulf.In addition, many believe that the story has its basis in truth--that is, a real man named Hrothgar lived.

Beowulf is a precious example of Old English because it is extant in only one manuscript--Cotton Vitellius A.xv, aka the Nowell Codex. Also contained in the Nowell Codex is a piece of the biblical story called Judith and several other stories that relate to saints or to wonders of the East. That the manuscript still exists is something of a miracle, given that it first survived the destruction of religious artifacts during the reign of Henry VIII and then survived the disastrous fire of the Cotton library in 1731. Many scholars are still involved in active scholarship concerningBeowulf, not least of which is the seemingly never-ending debate about the dating of the story. Some scholars believe that the story was composed at the same time it was written down, which is in the first part of the 11th century. Others date the story to a much earlier date--some say it was compoased as early as 700. Kevin Kiernan's book called Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript is a very interesting discussion of the topic. The manuscript resides in the British Library, where a few leaves are on display in the main public display on the second floor.

Sutton Hoo is an ancient burial site in England which contained artifacts that are said to be from the time of Beowulf's story. Here is the National Trust's site dedicated to Sutton Hoo.

Helmet recovered fromthe Sutton Hoo burial site ( The artifacts from Sutton Hoo are housed in the British Museum.

Here is a sample of Old English vs. Modern English.
Beowulf Verse Indeterminate Saxon

                            Old English                                                                                  Modern English translation
Hwæt! We Gardena         in geardagum,
       þeodcyninga,         þrym gefrunon,
       hu ða æþelingas         ellen fremedon.
       Oft Scyld Scefing         sceaþena þreatum,
5 monegum mægþum,         meodosetla ofteah,
       egsode eorlas.         Syððan ærest wearð
       feasceaft funden,         he þæs frofre gebad,
       weox under wolcnum,         weorðmyndum þah,
       oðþæt him æghwylc         þara ymbsittendra
10 ofer hronrade         hyran scolde,
       gomban gyldan.         þæt wæs god cyning!
       ðæm eafera wæs         æfter cenned,
       geong in geardum,         þone god sende
       folce to frofre;         fyrenðearfe ongeat
15 þe hie ær drugon         aldorlease
       lange hwile.         Him þæs liffrea,
       wuldres wealdend,         woroldare forgeaf;
       Beowulf wæs breme         (blæd wide sprang),
       Scyldes eafera         Scedelandum in.
20 Swa sceal geong guma         gode gewyrcean,
       fromum feohgiftum         on fæder bearme,
       þæt hine on ylde         eft gewunigen
       wilgesiþas,         þonne wig cume,
       leode gelæsten;         lofdædum sceal
25 in mægþa gehwære         man geþeon.
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!
To him an heir was afterward born,
a son in his halls, whom heaven sent
to favor the folk, feeling their woe
that erst they had lacked an earl for leader
so long a while; the Lord endowed him,
the Wielder of Wonder, with world's renown.
Famed was this Beowulf: far flew the boast of him,
son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.
So becomes it a youth to quit him well
with his father's friends, by fee and gift,
that to aid him, aged, in after days,
come warriors willing, should war draw nigh,
liegemen loyal: by lauded deeds
shall an earl have honor in every clan.

You might be able to see some words that at least sound familiar (waes=was; faeder=father; paet=that).  Compare this to the pages from the Chaucer manuscript in Middle English listed below.

Click here for a link to the Electronic Beowulf Project hosted by the University of Kentucky and the British Library.  There are photos of the only surviving manuscript and articles about restoration of the manuscript at this site. 

Click here for an audio of Ben Slade reading Beowulf in Old English

Another work of major importance in the Old English period is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It exists in several manuscripts and chronicles the history of Britain from biblical times to about 1154.

The first page of the Peterborough Chronicle, the most up to date of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. It resides in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, UK.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer and his horse from the Ellesmere MS, Huntington Library, Berkeley, California.

Chaucer is the father of English poetry. He was quite prolific and most of his works survive, though we have none in his hand. Recently, medieval scholar Linne Mooney traced a link between a poem Chaucer wrote to his scribe Adam and to a real scribe named Adam Pinkhurst. It turns out that Pinkhurst is the scribe who wrote the Ellesmere and Hengwrt manuscripts containing Chaucer's work. He is the closest link we have to Chaucer himself. Mooney's work was a major discovery and is very important to Chaucer scholars.

Here is the Luminarium page on Chaucer. We do a good bit about Chaucer's life, but much is still not known. He spent his days as a government employee in King Richard II's service and wrote at night.

Click here for photos of the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, which dates from around 1410 and is considered by many to be the finest of the Chaucer manuscripts.

Here is a picture of the "Wife of Bath" from the Ellesmere MS.

Volsunga Saga

Iceland lies between Greenland and Norway, with Great Britain to the southeast. A good portion of the island contains glaciers. In the time of the writing of the great Icelandic sagas, the climate in Iceland was warmer and more amenable to farming. People migrated from Scandinavia to Iceland because of its rich farmland. At the same time, Scandinavians had been settled in Great Britain for hundreds of years and had established areas of the island set aside as theirs. These areas were called the Danelaw.

"Earth covered farm homes in Keldur, Iceland. These were built in 1193, and are supposedly the oldest buildings in Iceland" ( These houses were built at the time that the Volsunga Saga was being written down.

The Volsunga Saga is one of the classics of Icelandic literature. It has influenced many artists, not least of which were Tolkien and Wagner.

Here is the site that has discussions of the story and its characters.

Here is the genealogical chart of the Volsungs. Here is another page that contains great information about the Norse and Icelandic mythologies and sagas.

Painting of a Valkyrie with her horse by Basil Poledouris (

Here is a page that discusses Norse heroes. Essential to many of the Icelandic and Norse sagas are the Valkyries. The Valkyries were women in the service of Odin. Theyescorted the dead heroes from the battlefield to Valhalla, Odin's hall, where they battled each other all day and feasted all night. The worst thing that could happen to a warrior was that he would not die honorably in battle. In order to be taken to Valhalla, he had to have his weapon in hand. In many of the stories, heroes were allowed to pick up their weapons before they were killed so that they could enter the halls of Valhalla. Here is another good site about the Valkyries and Norse and Icelandic poetry.



Odin is one of the chief gods in Norse mythology. His horse, Sleipnir, has eight legs.

Like Greek and Roman mythology, Norse mythology has many stories about the gods and goddesses and explanations of natural phenomena.

Closely related to the Volsunga Saga is the Niebelungenlied, a work in Middle High German that contains many parallels to the Volsunga Saga. Wagner used the Niebelungenleid and The Volsungasaga as sources for his masterpiece Der Ring des Niebelungs. Here is the Wikipedia article on the Niebelungleid, which is well-documented and researched.

Another famous Icelandic saga is Njal's Saga. Here is a well-researched and documented Wikipedia page on the story.

Runes are mentioned throughout The Volsungasaga. Runes are an ancient alphabet and are found on many stones and carvings from the Middle Ages. Here is a link to Omniglot, a website dedicated to writing systems.

Here is the link to the documentary The Vikings.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Images from the first page of the manuscript, an illumination of Lady Bertilak tempting Gawain, and Gawain's meeting with the Green Knight.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (SGGK) is another very special text because it is extant in one manuscript only--Cotton Nero A.x. The manuscript contains four works--Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and SGGK. The Wikipedia entry for SGGK is well-researched and documented. The work is a Middle English alliterative romance from the West-Midlands of England. Like the Beowulf manuscript, the Gawain manuscript resides in the British Library.

Here is the Gawain page at Luminarium, an important scholarly website for medievalists. Another important scholarly site for medievalists is The Camelot Project. Here is its entry on Gawain. Gawain has a rich literary history in the Arthurian cycle. His story in SGGK is related to, but very separate from, the Arthurian stories. In others, Gawain is one of the knights on the quest for the Grail. In some stories, he is the knight who achieves the Grail. In the older tradition, it is Galahad or Perceval who achieve the Grail.

SGGK was written by an anonymous author, most often referred to as either the Pearl-poet or the Gawain-poet. Here is a good page that contains many links to information about the work and the others in the manuscript


Take a tour through the Renaissance with the Annenberg/CPB Project .  This one's definitely worth the time! 

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote


John Milton, Paradise Lost

Click here for, a good site for getting an overview of Milton's masterpiece.

Click HERE for a book-by-book summary of Paradise Lost.

Here is a study guide for Paradise Lost, hosted by Dartmouth University.

Click here for the Milton-L web page, hosted by the University of Richmond.

This is Michaelangelo's depiction of the eviction from the Garden of Eden from the Sistine Chapel.

Voltaire, Candide

Click here for a link to the University of Chicago's "Resources for the study of Candide" site.  

William Blake

Click here for a link to William Blake Online, a website created and hosted by the Tate Museum in Britain.

Click here for the Blake Archive's Sites Relating to the William Blake Archive.

William Wordsworth

Click here for The Wordsworth Trust website.  The site contains some good resources in the study of Wordsworth.

Here is the Visit Cumbria website, which contains pictures of some of the places Wordsworth lived and loved.

Here is a picture of Tintern Abbey, a Cistercian abbey in Wales.  Click here for more pictures of the abbey that inspired one of Wordsworth's greatest poems.  Here are more pictures of Tintern Abbey.

John Keats

Click here for Professor Lilia Melani's (Associate Professor of English at Brooklyn College)  site entitled Ode to a Nightingale, which provides some good background information and discussion of what many say is Keats' greatest poem.

Robert Browning

Click here for the Vistorian Web's page on Robert Browning.  Click here for resources in the study of My Last Duchess.  Here is a list of good discussion questions about the poem.

Click HERE for a discussion of the Fisher King, a major theme in "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."

Leo Tolstoy

Here is a website created by a student at BYU entitled Leo Tolstoy.  It contains some pictures, his works, and biographical information about Tolstoy.

Franz Kafka

Click here for The Kafka Project's main page.

Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot

Click here for the Academy of American Poets' page on Eliot.

Click here for What the Thunder Said, a web site created and hosted by Raymond Camden, English major and IT professional.

William Faulkner

Click here for Ole Miss' site called William Faulkner on the Web.  

Click here for a good critical article about the thematic and structural function of time in The Bear

Still not clear on what happens in The Bear?  Click here for a sparknotes summary, which is accurate, but misses some key points of the story. 

Click here for a good discussion of Go Down, Moses from Dr. Schaefer of Holy Cross University.

Last updated December 31, 2008.