I recently began re-reading the The Norton Anthology of English Literature -- for fun. Okay, I know that sounds strange, but I was looking for a good challenge.
So far I've only read The Dream of the Rood and Beowulf -- so we're talking Old English here. Back in college I took an advanced course in the Old English language (I was just an undergrad, but I'm a sucker for dead languages so I took the course with my teacher's approval). Old English is a Germanic language brought to Britain by the Anglo-Saxon invaders (loose dates to set the stage -- 450AD-1066AD). This was the age of the bard in which the heroic ideal reigned. Family led tribes ruled and the religion of the region was Christianity.
The old version of the Norton Anthology that I have has a rather dull translation of Beowulf, so I decided to read the Seamus Heaney verse translation -- which actually appears in the newer edition of the NA. I love it because it keeps alive the rhythm and alliteration of the original and in addition the original Old English appears on the facing pages. Haney's translation is quite impressive.
The last work in Old English is the Battle of Maldon and then I'm already into Middle English and the Canterbury Tales. More updates to follow.