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Damico, retired UNM Beowulf scholar, dies of COVID-19

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Helen Damico, a retired Beowulf scholar at the University of New Mexico who founded the school’s Institute for Medieval Studies, died last week of complications from COVID-19.

Helen Damico

The university Tuesday said Damico died April 14. She was 89.

Damico taught courses in Old and Middle English at the university beginning in 1981 after completing her Ph.D. at New York University the year before.

Institute for Medieval Studies Director Timothy Graham says Damico was inspired to found the medieval program after attending a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College Teachers at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.

In 1986, Damico initiated the institute’s flagship event, the annual Medieval Spring Lecture Series, which has been held every year since then until this year because of coronavirus restrictions.

In the late 1990s, Damico established another program around Viking mythology.

“Helen Damico had truly brought Medieval Studies to the New Mexico desert, as she liked to say,” said Anita Obermeier, chair of the English Department and medievalist colleague.

Damico was well known for her work on Old English and Old Norse literature, and, above all, for her studies of Beowulf.

In 1984 she published Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition, a book that has been acclaimed for drawing attention to a key female figure in the poem – Wealhtheow, queen to the Danish ruler Hrothgar.

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