Helen Damico

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Helen Damico
Helen Pittas

(1931-01-30)January 30, 1931
DiedApril 14, 2020(2020-04-14) (aged 89)
Akron, Ohio, United States
OccupationLiterature scholar

Helen Damico (January 30, 1931 – April 14, 2020) was a Greek-born American scholar of Old English and Old English literature.


Life and career

Born in Chios, Greece, Damico emigrated to the United States in 1937.

She earned her B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1952, and was on the faculty of Brooklyn College, followed by the University of Minnesota. She received her Ph.D. from New York University in 1980.

At the University of New Mexico she began teaching in 1981, later founding the Institute for Medieval Studies. She finally became Professor Emerita.

The author of Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition, Damico made important contributions to the study of women in Old English and Old Norse literature, and her work on Wealhþeow is frequently cited. [1] [2] [3] She saw representations of the valkyrie in both Wealhþeow and Grendel's Mother in the Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700–1000 AD). [4]

Damico was a recipient of the New Mexico Humanities Award for Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities, and a recipient of the Medieval Academy of America's CARA Award for Outstanding Service to Medieval Studies.


She died on April 14, 2020, as a result of COVID-19. [5] [6]

Books authored and edited


Edited collections


Related Research Articles

<i>Beowulf</i> Old English epic poem

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem in the tradition of Germanic heroic legend consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is one of the most important and most often translated works of Old English literature. The date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars; the only certain dating is for the manuscript, which was produced between 975 and 1025. Scholars call the anonymous author the "Beowulf poet". The story is set in pagan Scandinavia in the 6th century. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by the monster Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is then defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland and becomes king of the Geats. Fifty years later, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is mortally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants cremate his body and erect a tower on a headland in his memory.

Old English literature refers to poetry and prose written in Old English in early medieval England, from the 7th century to the decades after the Norman Conquest of 1066, a period often termed Anglo-Saxon England. The 7th-century work Cædmon's Hymn is often considered as the oldest surviving poem in English, as it appears in an 8th-century copy of Bede's text, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Poetry written in the mid 12th century represents some of the latest post-Norman examples of Old English. Adherence to the grammatical rules of Old English is largely inconsistent in 12th-century work, and by the 13th century the grammar and syntax of Old English had almost completely deteriorated, giving way to the much larger Middle English corpus of literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Junius manuscript</span>

The Junius manuscript is one of the four major codices of Old English literature. Written in the 10th century, it contains poetry dealing with Biblical subjects in Old English, the vernacular language of Anglo-Saxon England. Modern editors have determined that the manuscript is made of four poems, to which they have given the titles Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, and Christ and Satan. The identity of their author is unknown. For a long time, scholars believed them to be the work of Cædmon, accordingly calling the book the Cædmon manuscript. This theory has been discarded due to the significant differences between the poems.

Wiglaf is a character in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He is the son of Weohstan, a Swede of the Wægmunding clan who had entered the service of Beowulf, king of the Geats. Wiglaf is called Scylfing as a metonym for Swede, as the Scylfings were the ruling Swedish clan. While in the service of the Scylfing Onela, king of the Swedes, Weohstan killed the rebel prince Eanmund and took his sword as a trophy; Wiglaf later inherited it. Weohstan belonged to the clan of the Wægmundings, the same clan Beowulf's father Ecgþeow belonged to; so Wiglaf is Beowulf's distant cousin, and his only living relative at the time of Beowulf's death.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wealhtheow</span>

Wealhtheow is a queen of the Danes in the Old English poem, Beowulf, first introduced in line 612.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beowulf (hero)</span> Legendary Geatish hero

Beowulf is a legendary Geatish hero in the eponymous epic poem, one of the oldest surviving pieces of English literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grendel's mother</span> Mother of the above Grendel

Grendel's mother is one of three antagonists in the anonymous Old English poem Beowulf, the other two being Grendel and the dragon. Each antagonist reflects different negative aspects of both the hero Beowulf and the heroic society that the poem is set in. Grendel's mother is introduced in lines 1258b to 1259a as: "Grendles modor/ides, aglæcwif".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unferð</span> Character in Beowulf

In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, Unferth or Hunferth is a thegn of the Danish lord Hrothgar. He appears five times in the poem — four times by the name 'Hunferð' and once by the appellation "the son of Eclafes". The name Unferth does not appear in any Old English manuscript outside of the Nowell Codex, which contains Beowulf, and the meaning of the name is disputed. Several scholarly theories about Unferth have been proposed. Unferth is also the name of a character in the modern novel Grendel by John Gardner, based upon the Beowulf epic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modthryth</span>

Modthryth, Thryth, and Fremu are reconstructed names for a character who figures as the queen of King Offa in Beowulf.

Elene is a poem in Old English, that is sometimes known as Saint Helena Finds the True Cross. It was translated from a Latin text and is the longest of Cynewulf's four signed poems. It is the last of six poems appearing in the Vercelli manuscript, which also contains The Fates of the Apostles, Andreas, Soul and Body I, the Homiletic Fragment I and Dream of the Rood. The poem is the first English account of the finding of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The poem was written by Cynewulf some time between 750 and the tenth century. It is written in a West Saxon dialect, but certain Anglianisms and metrical evidence concerning false rhymes suggest it was written in an Anglian rather than Saxon dialect. It is 1,321 lines long.

Nicholas Howe (1953–2006) was an American scholar of Old English literature and culture, whose Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England (1989) was an important contribution to the study of Old English literature and historiography.

Dame Rosemary Jean Cramp, is a British archaeologist and academic specialising in the Anglo-Saxons. She was the first female professor appointed at Durham University and was Professor of Archaeology from 1971 to 1990. She served as President of the Society of Antiquaries of London from 2001 to 2004.

John D. Niles is an American scholar of medieval English literature best known for his work on Beowulf and the theory of oral literature.

Catherine E. Karkov is professor of History of Art and head of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research centres on early medieval art, especially Anglo-Saxon art, and she has published three monographs. Her first concerns Anglo-Saxon art; the second one on the relation between text and image in Anglo-Saxon literature; and the third on how Anglo-Saxon writers imagined England as a place, how Anglo-Saxon England is understood by modern audiences, and the "fraught history of 'Anglo-Saxon' studies".

Roberta Frank is an American philologist specializing in Old English and Old Norse language and literature. She is Marie Borroff Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colin Robert Chase</span> American academic (1935–1984)

Colin Robert Chase was an American academic. An associate professor of English at the University of Toronto, he was known for his contributions to the studies of Old English and Anglo-Latin literature. His best-known work, The Dating of Beowulf, challenged the accepted orthodoxy of the dating of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, which was then thought to be from the latter half of the eighth century, and left behind what was described in A Beowulf Handbook as "a cautious and necessary incertitude".

Godfrid Storms was a Dutch professor of Old and Middle English Literature at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. He published his seminal dissertation on Anglo-Saxon charms in 1948, superseding a work that had stood as the authority for forty years, before obtaining his professorship there in 1956. Among his many other works were articles on Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo ship-burial.

Marijane Osborn is an American academic. Her research spans literary disciplines, she is a specialist in Old English and Norse literature, and she has published on runes, Middle English, Victorian and contemporary poets and writers, film, and is a translator and fiction writer. She is Professor Emerita at UC Davis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Haliurunas</span> Type of witch in Germanic paganism

Haliurunas, haljarunae, Haliurunnas, haliurunnae, etc., were Gothic "witches" who appear once in Getica, a 6th century work on Gothic history. The account tells that the early Goth king Filimer found witches among his people when they had settled north of the Black Sea, and that he banished them to exile. They were impregnated by unclean spirits and engendered the Huns, and the account is a precursor of later Christian traditions where wise women were alleged to have sexual intercourse and even orgies with demons and the Devil.


  1. Carruthers, Leo (2011). "Rewriting Genres: Beowulf as Epic Romance". In Leo Carruthers (ed.). Palimpsests and the Literary Imagination of Medieval England: Collected Essays. Raeleen Chai-Elsholz, Tatjana Silec. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 139–56. ISBN   9780230118805.
  2. Hill, John M (2009). Narrative Pulse of Beowulf: Arrivals and Departures. U of Toronto P. p. 65. ISBN   9781442691940.
  3. Chickering, Howell (2009). "Poetic Exuberance in the Old English Judith". Studies in Philology . 106 (2): 119–36. doi:10.1353/sip.0.0022. JSTOR   25656006. S2CID   162317141.
  4. Marshall, David W. (2010). "Getting Reel with Grendel's Mother: Abject Maternal and Social Critique". In Karl Fugelso (ed.). Defining Neomedievalism(s). Boydell & Brewer. pp. 135–59. ISBN   9781843842286 . Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  5. "Obituary: Dr. Helen (Pittas) Damico". Billow Funeral Homes. Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  6. "Professor Emerita Helen Damico dies". The University of New Mexico. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  7. Clogan, Paul Maurice (1995). "Rev. of Heroic Poetry in the Anglo-Saxon Period". Medievalia et Humanistica . 22: 229–230. ISBN   9780847680993 . Retrieved 17 February 2015.