An Old English Subject Reader / Intro exit



The intention is to present a collection of short texts suitable for beginners to tackle, both to improve their reading knowledge of Old English and their acquaintance with the world of Anglo-Saxon ideas.

To assist with reading, a printed glossary/dictionary is available from Heart of Albion Press. This is specially designed to get round the chore of looking a word up at the back - in the case of book - and losing your place in the text in the process. With text on-screen and glossary in-hand you should be able to check individual words without losing sight of the text or concentration.


The extracts are selected part for their own intrinsic interest, part for the help they give in understanding the framework of Anglo-Saxon thinking, building to make a clearer picture for you of the way Anglo-Saxons thought of their own world. Unfortunately, only Part One - 'The Natural World' - was ever completed. Part Two - 'The Human World' - should have followed, but never did.

This was due to the difficulties of type-setting and printing back in the early 1990s. As I recall, it was undertaken on an Amstrad computer with a dot matric printer, then photocopied at a slightly dark setting, to ensure the dots joined up to make solid letters. The latter images are sometimes rather too solid, but hopefully, in all cases, legible. Because of the problem of special letters, the transfer from the original document to a modern PC is not feasible, and only one or two printed copies remain to work from. Re-setting and re-printing is not a simple option.

The priginal printed text has therefore been scanned and is presented here as 'gif' images, following the original pagination. The project was begun when it was realised how convenient this in fact would prove, if used in conjunction with the printed glossary. If you are a beginner in Old English, this glossary is essential. If you are a fair reader of OE, you may find the selection of texts here equally useful, as giving a special insight into how the Anglo-Saxon regarded their own world. To save argument, this concept was essentially Christian. However it was a Christianity that depended on relatively low technology, and whose science freely admitted Romano-Greek pseudo-fact and Germanic tradition. Surprisingly perhaps, it had a coherence lacking in the 21st century.


Prose is printed continuously; poetry in modern editorial lines; Aelfric's alliterative prose is set out with stops marking the quasi-poetic units. Square brackets indicate an emendation. Bold type indicates the alliterating letters in the verse line (not very clear in this scanning).

7 is the OE symbol for and/and ("and") used in many MSS.


Included below is a simple guide to OE letter forms and pronunciation. This is also in the dictionary, where a section on OE grammar is included as well, which we recommend you to study.

OE has three special letter forms adopted in modern printing practice:

æ - called 'ash' (æsc). This is a separate vowel from /a/ and /e/.
þ - called 'thorn' - and ð - called 'eth'. these symbols are intechangeable. Both represent the modern letters and sound /th/.

short /a/ as in bad
short /æ/ as in hat
short /e/ as in set
short /i/ as in bit
short /o/ as in tot
short /u/ as in took (NOT as in gut)
short /y/ a rounded /u/ like the French /u/

long /a/ as in father (NOT as in day)
long /æ/ as in hand
long /e/ as a in hate (NOT as in seen)
long /i/ as ee in teeth (NOT as in bite)
long /o/ as in coat (NOT as in cook)
long /u/ as /oo/ in boot
long /y/ - again like French /u/

Note: later in the AS period, /y/ is unrounded, and becomes interchangeable with /i/.

Consonants are much as in Modern English, but note:

/c/ near a front vowel (/ae/, /e/, /i/) is pronounced like /ch/ in cheese. This type of /c/ is marked with a dot over the letter. Otherwise /c/ pronounced as /k/.
/g/ near a front vowel is pronounced like /y/ in yacht. This type of /g/ is marked with a dot over the letter. Otherwise /g/ is pronounced as /g/ in got.
/f/ between vowels is pronounced as /v/
/s/ between vowels is pronounced as /z/
/cg/ is pronounced like /dg/ e.g. OE bricg is Modern English bridge
/sc/ is pronounced like /sh/ e.g. OE #sciell is Modern English shell
/h/ is sounded in the combination /h/+/t/. It is a breathy sound, rather like Scottish /ch/ in loch, or German /h/ in Nacht.
/cn/ is pronounced /k/+/n/
/cw/ is the OE form of /qu/

Emphasis (stress) is on the first main syllable, much as in Modern English (e.g. golden, tangle), but prefixes like ge- are not accented (compare Modern English refinery, entanglement, bestride).


Aelfric CHom. - The Catholic Homilies - two cycles of homilies, each fitting the calendar of the Church year, composed in the early 990s.

Aelfric LS - Lives of the Saints, written in the later 990s, mostly in Aelfric's alliterative style,

Aelfric De Temp.Anni - Aelfric's version of Bede's De Temporibus Anni.

Alfred Blostman - King Alfred's compilation from Augustine's Soliloquies, and other classical works.

Alfred Froforboc - King Alfred's translation of Boethius' On the Consolation of PHilosophy, a summary of late classical philosohpy & science.

Alfred Hirdeboc - King Alfred's translation of Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care, a work on the duty of bishops and Christian leadership.

ASChron - the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, first circulated in Alfred's reign.

Bede - the Old English version of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.

Metres - The translation - in OE verse - of the Metres or poems from Boethius' Consolation of Phillosophy, attributed to King Alfred.