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Marvels of the East in Old and Middle English Literature


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree, a working knowledge of Old English and good knowledge of Middle English.


Since the beginnings of England there has been a great fascination with the East: the Sutton Hoo burial treasures (ca. 610) included objects from as far away as Byzantium and Egypt. In literature, too, the Orient figured prominently. Not only as the land of the Bible, but also as the source for precious commodities such as spices, gems and luxury textiles.
The absence of (f)actual knowledge helped create the notion of the Orient as a never-never land where anything was possible, varying from inaccessible deserts, insurmountable mountains and lost paradises to the abode of curious animals like griffins, ants as big as camels and humanoids with dog’s heads or with eyes and mouths in their breast. Moreover, the Orient was associated with decadence (de luxe brothels for the Anglo-Saxons, enviably large harems for the later period) and paganism, esp. Islam. In this course we will study the ways in which the Orient was represented in Old and Middle English literature, including Old English accounts of the East, the first OE prose novel, Apollonius of Tyre, Middle English travel literature (including pilgrimages to Jerusalem) and crusader and chivalric romances situated in the Orient.

Course objectives

This course builds upon experience acquired as part of a BA curriculum in Old and Middle English language and culture.

  • The students will extend their knowledge of and insights into OE and ME literature about the Orient and develop research skills which they can apply to the course subject. At the end of the course, the students will be able to carry out a small-scale research problem by independently reading and interpreting relevant primary and secondary literature.

  • students will extend their abilities to present their research results both orally and in written form on a near-professional level.
    Upon completion of the course, students will be well equipped to write their MA thesis on a topic in English philology.


The timetable will be available by July 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction

Two-hour seminar per week.

Assessment method

Presentation and participation (20%), final essay (80%).
An extension of 5 EC is possible and will be assessed by an “open question” written examination.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with additional information/reading material.

Reading list

  • Orchard, Andy (2003). Pride and Prodigies: A Study in the Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, rev.ed.).

  • Moseley, C.W.R.D. (trans.) (1983). The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

  • Apollonius of Tyre, ed. B. Thorpe (internet).

  • Staley, Lynn (trans. and ed.) (2001). The Book of Margery Kempe. NY & London: Norton Books (or internet version).

  • Lupack, Alan (ed.) (1990).The Sultan of Babylon, in Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances. Kalamazoo: TEAMS) (also available from internet).

  • Reader/Blackboard with sundry texts.


Students should register through uSis. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272251 or mail.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

MA Literary Studies departmental office, Van Wijkplaats 3, room 002A. Tel. 071 527 2251 or mail.
Coordinator of Studies: Ms T.D. Obbens, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.