Beowulf by Unknown

Beowulf

Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the classic Northern epic of a hero’s triumphs as a young warrior and his fated death as a defender of his people. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on, physically and psychically exposed in the exhausted aftermath. It is not hard to draw parallels in this story to...

Title:Beowulf
Author:
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Edition Language:English

Beowulf Reviews

  • J.G. Keely

    There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

    Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian sonnets into English,

    There are different ways to translate, and it comes down to what you want to get across. Most creative authors have such a strong voice and sense of story that they will overwhelm the original author. As Bentley wrote of Pope's Iliad: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

    Sometimes this sort of indirect translation is useful in itself, such as during the transition of the Renaissance from Italy to Britain. Many of the British poets rewrote Italian sonnets into English, and though the line of descent was unquestionable, the progeny was it's own work. Another example might be the digestion of Wuxia and Anime into films such as Tarantino's or The Matrix (though Tarantino's sense of propriety is often suspect).

    However, in these cases, we can hardly call the new work a translation of the old. You are not experiencing the old work but the inspiration it has wrought. Beowulf is just this sort of translation, capturing the excitement and passion of the story, but obliterating the details which make the work interesting to students of history or literary theory.

    Heaney's translation is a fun, rollicking epic, able to draw in even uninitiated students, which is no doubt why it is now included in Norton. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly useful tool for teaching the importance of the original work. Heaney severs many connections to the unique world of Beowulf.

    As the only surviving epic from its time, place, and tradition, Beowulf is a unique vision into a pre-Christian culture outside of the Mediterranean. Though the poem shows Christian revisions, these stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the work, and can usually be easily excised, unlike many pervasive Christian impositions on the 'pagan' cultures.

    Heaney is not a philologist nor a historian, but a popular poet. He doesn't have the background for conscientious translation, and the clearest sign that his translation is haphazard is the fact that there are no footnotes explaining the difficult decisions that most translators have to make in every line. Heaney also loses much of the alliteration and appositives that marked the artistry of the original.

    A Beowulf that can exist without context is a Beowulf that has well and truly been separated from its past. Perhaps his translation is suitable for an introduction to the work, but a good professor should be able to teach the original without much difficulty.

    Then again, perhaps the inclusion of this version in college classes has to do with the fact that college is no longer the path for scholars, but has been given the same equality treatment as art and poetry. College is now meant for your average, half-literate frat boy who only wants a BA so he can be a mid-level retail manager.

    Heaney's translation certainly suits for them, since it is the easiest version of the story this side of a digital Angelina. It's fun and exciting, certainly worth a read, but doesn't stand up as a translation.

  • Seth T.

    I've just finished reading Beowulf for the third time! But lo, this reading was in the bold and exciting

    by

    ! And what a difference a day makes - Heaney is unstoppable! Rather, he makes Beowulf unstoppable. Unstoppable in his ability to pound you in the face with his manliness and leave you bleeding-but-strangely-desiring-more.

    As I said, I've read the epic Anglo-Saxon poem several times now, but usually, I'm trudging through to get to the "good parts

    I've just finished reading Beowulf for the third time! But lo, this reading was in the bold and exciting

    by

    ! And what a difference a day makes - Heaney is unstoppable! Rather, he makes Beowulf unstoppable. Unstoppable in his ability to pound you in the face with his manliness and leave you bleeding-but-strangely-desiring-more.

    As I said, I've read the epic Anglo-Saxon poem several times now, but usually, I'm trudging through to get to the "good parts" (i.e., Beowulf's three notable feats), but this time, I was taken aback! The whole durned thing was the good parts! What luck! I read it over the space of three days and boy is my voice tired (I have a distinct inability when it comes to facing these sorts of tales - I have to read aloud. And with an accent. And with bluster).

    One of the coolest things spicing up this reading (besides Heaney's great translation) was the juxtaposition of the Old English to the translation. As you may know, the only surviving copy of anything close to an original Beowulf is written in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) from 'tween AD 700 and 1000. Now Old English isn't just archaic some King James English with lotsa thees, thous, and forsooths, as many people seem to think. It's the illegitimate birth father of Middle English (which I believe came about sometime after AD 1066) which in turn spawned Modern English. Modern English includes the English used in both Shakespeare and the King James Bible as well as the haphazard trash we sprechen today. In truth, Old English is nearly indecipherable. Below, I've included the first three lines of Beowulf, which are not only a great example of what I'm talking about, but strangely fitting for who I am:

    Fun, no? Well... so you know, that translates as:

    Hoorah! Hoorah for the Spear-Danes! And...*ahem* ..who cares if by the time Beowulf comes around their busy getting their butts eaten off by Grendel. Hoorah for the Spear-Danes! Hoorah for Gâr-dena (and doesn't that sound like a wonderful name for a city?).

    In any case, it was fun to look over at the Anglo-Saxon to see if I could decipher any of it. Alas, my attention was so rapt upon the tale that I didn't take as much time to peruse the original as I would have liked. But since I bought it, I should be afforded plenty of time for such trivialities.

  • AJ Griffin

    If I wrote a list of things I don't give a shit about, I'm pretty sure "some big fucking monster whose name sounds like a word for the area between my balls and my ass that attacks alcoholics and is eventually slain by some asshole, told entirely in some ancient form of English that I don't understand" would be near the top (for the record, run-on sentences would not. Judge not).

    This was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was the catalyst to

    If I wrote a list of things I don't give a shit about, I'm pretty sure "some big fucking monster whose name sounds like a word for the area between my balls and my ass that attacks alcoholics and is eventually slain by some asshole, told entirely in some ancient form of English that I don't understand" would be near the top (for the record, run-on sentences would not. Judge not).

    This was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was the catalyst to my never caring about school again.

    God do I hate this fucking book.

  • Michael

    I teach

    in my honors class, and it's a tale I've always loved. There's something about the raw power, the direct yet engaging storyline, the rhythm and tone of the story that draws the reader (or, ideally, the listener) into another world. The social conventions, alien in many ways to our modern mindset, show a world both brutal and honorable, where death and heroism go side-by-side, where every act has consequence and there is no expectation of joy and happiness—these things have to be

    I teach

    in my honors class, and it's a tale I've always loved. There's something about the raw power, the direct yet engaging storyline, the rhythm and tone of the story that draws the reader (or, ideally, the listener) into another world. The social conventions, alien in many ways to our modern mindset, show a world both brutal and honorable, where death and heroism go side-by-side, where every act has consequence and there is no expectation of joy and happiness—these things have to be wrested from existence and are of short duration. And the interplay of the original Pagan story and the Christian elements brought in by our monastic narrator show the tension of a people wrestling with their old beliefs and how to reconcile them with the new. The startling use of language and poetic diction make this a masterpiece of English literature.

    I've read a dozen translations (and even done my own crude one); each of them has different aspects to recommend it. Heaney's strength is in his poetic voice—he's done an amazing job of preserving the rhythms and alliterations so crucial to the format of the original verse and updated it without being so modern as to lose the flavor of the original. He uses some archaic terms and those of his Celtic ancestors, which work well and do not mar the understanding of readers new to the text. Best of all, this is a parallel translation, with the original Old English on the

    pages.

    My only quibbles have to do with some of Heaney's word choices. There are debates within the literary community about the nature of the monsters (and the heroes) in the poem, and Heaney takes a pretty hard line, translating some phrases and terms in ways that make his choices seem unavoidable (but which are not always supported in the original). Innocent phrases like "wight" and "spirit" are sometimes glossed as "demon" or "specter," and we lose the sense of some of the wonderful Old English kennings, like the description of Grendel as a

    , "walker on the borders."

    Overall, a really fine translation. (And since it's been immortalized in

    and all Norton's student editions, it will be

    version most everyone knows for the foreseeable future.)

  • Michael

    *bum bum* IN A WORLD . . . *bum bum* . . . FULL OF NASTY MONSTERS . . . *bum bum* . . . WHO EAT PEOPLE AND BREAK INTO CASTLES . . . *bum bum* . . . THE BEASTLY GRENDEL LURKED LONG OVER THE MOORES . . . *bum bum* . . . BUT NOW . . . *Cut to scene of monster ripping someone's face off with his teeth*

    (silence. black screen.)

    *Unknown warriors approaching*

    *bum bum* . . . ONE M

    *bum bum* IN A WORLD . . . *bum bum* . . . FULL OF NASTY MONSTERS . . . *bum bum* . . . WHO EAT PEOPLE AND BREAK INTO CASTLES . . . *bum bum* . . . THE BEASTLY GRENDEL LURKED LONG OVER THE MOORES . . . *bum bum* . . . BUT NOW . . . *Cut to scene of monster ripping someone's face off with his teeth*

    (silence. black screen.)

    *Unknown warriors approaching*

    *bum bum* . . . ONE MAN . . . *bum bum* . . . ONE LARGE MAN . . .*bum bum* . . . OF NOBLE BIRTH AND LONG, LONG SWORD . . . *bum bum* . . . IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE THEM.

    *cue symphony: BUM-BUM-BUUUUMMMMM! BUM-BUM-BUUUUMMMMM*

    Beowulf speaks:

    *Everyone looks around at each other, wondering what the fuck he's talking about*

    *Exciting symphony, something along the lines of "O Fortuna." combat shown as Beowulf tosses Grendel down, gets Grendel in a headlock, pokes him in his eyes. Beowulf takes his shoe off and starts hitting Grendel on the top of his head with it.*

    *Music stops. Shot of Beowulf on the shore, hand on his hilt.*

    Beowulf speaks:

    "Tis time that I fare from you. Father Almighty

    in grace and mercy guard you well,

    safe in your seekings. Seaward I go,

    'gainst hostile warriors hold my watch."

    BEOWULF. PG-13, Parents Strongly Cautioned. Contains Monsters Biting People's Faces Off, Graphic Far-Fetched Violence, and Shots of Beowulf's Bare Chest.

    *****

    Beowulf is totally the precursor to Conan, and Rambo. He's mothafuckin' badass. And you know how, since the Rambo movies are so old, they come out in boxed sets now? Think of this slim volume as a trilogy:

    BEOWULF

    BEOWULF II: MOMMY DEAREST

    BEOWULF III: BEOWULF VERSUS A BIG-ASS DRAGON

    While often trilogies get worse as they go along, this one actually improves. And it's safe to say that a fourth sequel will never come out about Beowulf after he gets old and out of shape. . . although that might be what BEOWULF VERSUS A BIG-ASS DRAGON is.

    If you like football, Stallone, Escape From New York, and can't get enough of Arnold Schwarzenegger, this is THE classic for you.

  • Alex

    Beowulf and his drunk meathead friends are having a loud party, and their neighbor Grendel comes over like hey guys, can you keep it down? - that's funny because actually he eats a bunch of them - and then Beowulf tears his fuckin' arm off and nails it above his door, and honestly nobody really comes out of this looking like a good neighbor, do they?

    So like Humbaba in

    or

    cyclops, Polyphemus, we have a monster of questionable monstrosity. Beowulf started it, right? And then

    Beowulf and his drunk meathead friends are having a loud party, and their neighbor Grendel comes over like hey guys, can you keep it down? - that's funny because actually he eats a bunch of them - and then Beowulf tears his fuckin' arm off and nails it above his door, and honestly nobody really comes out of this looking like a good neighbor, do they?

    So like Humbaba in

    or

    cyclops, Polyphemus, we have a monster of questionable monstrosity. Beowulf started it, right? And then Grendel's mom gets involved, as moms do, and then later there's a dragon.

    It’s become fashionable lately to claim that the Dark Ages weren’t so dark. There were great civilizations like the Celts and the Golden Age of Islam; there was extensive trade; things weren’t so bad. This is not entirely true at the best of times - seriously, this was a shitty thousand years full of wars and plagues - but it’s especially untrue when we're talking about literature. Between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance in the 1300s, there is not much good stuff to read.

    So the stoic, tragic, beautiful Beowulf is one of the few high points in this whole millenium. Here's

    Check out the alliteration - that’s when words start with the same letter; in most Old English stuff, like this and the awesome

    they didn’t use rhyme so much. They depended on alliteration.

    (By the way, if you want a challenge, look on Youtube for someone reciting Beowulf without holding a sword. The crossover between fans of this poem and fans of Dungeons & Dragons is pretty heavy.)

    I've read Beowulf like five times now. This was my second time through Heaney's translation, which (like Armitage's translation of Gawain and the Green Knight) conveniently gives the original text on the left side and Heaney's translation on the right. That's super cool, and this is the exact translation that appears on The Toast's list of

    so I guess that tells you whether you should buy it or just borrow it from some white dude you know. You can come over any time, I got a nice living room.

    Here it is, with a custom bookmark my friend Frank whipped up special on his 3D printer, it's Grendel's arm.

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    It r

    It rained, but it was colder than what it should be to be raining. A combination of warmer atmosphere and colder temperatures on the ground produced an ice storm. It hit over the weekend so I could sit quite comfortably by my fireplace and watch out the window as the rain formed into sheets of ice on the streets and sidewalks. Power lines thickened as they became cubed in ice. Foot long and longer icicles dangled and swayed from the power lines, from the eaves of houses, from signs, from fence lines. The most affected though were the trees. The bigger the tree with the thicker branches, the more affected they would be. The ice accumulated on their branches bending and twisting them down to the ground. They became monsters, slumbering beneath an armour of ice.

    I’d been thinking about rereading Beowulf for some time. This story has been a part of me for almost as long as I can remember. I read a child’s version when I was young, several times before moving on to other more adult translations. The idea of a man taking on a monster, much stronger than most men, and finding a way to defeat him was compelling mythology for my young mind. The terror of it, the monster that comes into your home and kills in the dead of the night and takes heads as trophies, left shivers in the very center of me.

    Beowulf hears of a monster who is attacking the Danes. He is one of thirteen men who decide to go to the rescue of Hrothgar, King of the Danes. He goes because he needs to make a name for himself, as Buliwyf in the movie

    says:

    Beowulf is poor, renown for his strength, but he has no Hall to call his own and, but for this small band, no men to call him King.

    I had spent most of the day finishing another book and, thus, had started reading Beowulf late in the evening. The wife and my Scottish Terrier had gone to bed, and I was left in the soft glow of my reading lamp. Most of the city had lost power as lines too heavy with ice had crashed down one by one. I had candles close to hand. It never crossed my mind, power or no power, that I would go to bed. Beowulf was written in Old English between 975-1025. The Seamus Heaney translation that I read had the Old English on one page and Heaney’s translation on the other page. In college, I took a Chaucer class and became a fair hand at deciphering Middle English, but looking and even pronouncing these unfamiliar words did not ring any ancient bells in my English soul. I would have had better luck reading Greek than Old English.

    As Beowulf grapples with Grendel and then with Grendel’s mother, I was just as enthralled with the story as I was as a wee tot. The carnage, the darkness, the uncertainty that Beowulf had to feel, despite his boasts to the contrary, all lend a fine, sharp edge to the tale. As I read, I also started to hear the sharp cracks and howls of ice heavy tree limbs separating from their trunk in much the same way as Beowulf pulls Grendel’s arm loose from his shoulder. The crash of these ice shrouded branches against the frozen ground sounded to my mind like the steel swords of the Geats banging against their metal wrapped shields.

    Curiosity got the better of me, and I walked out of my back door into an alien landscape. Each individual stem of grass had frozen into a nub of ice. With every step, my boots crunched and slipped across this icy topography. Piles of limbs laid at the bottoms of the bigger trees. A small limb detached from the cottonwood tree as I stood there and made discordant music as it hit the limbs below before finally landing among its fallen, dying brethren on the ground. The younger trees, more limber, were probably fine, I told myself. They are bowed over as if in supplication to Mother Nature. Their top branches were frozen to the ground, making arches of their shapes. It was all very beautiful. I remembered reading about a party that was given for Anastasia, the Russian princess, before her life became tangled in the turmoil of revolution. The servants were outside spraying water on the trees so they would glitter with ice as the aristocracy arrived on their horse pulled, bell laden sleighs.

    I went back inside and peeled off my boots and my jacket and returned to Beowulf. Another log was required for the fire, so I spent a few moments poking the remaining logs to make room for more wood. I flinched as I heard more crashes from outside. An assembly of Geats preparing for battle. When I finally settled back into my chair, Beowulf has become King of the Geats and fights battles with the greatest champions of the land. He involves himself in disagreements.

    I just loved that…

    . I also really liked..

    There are lines like that all through the story. Words unfamiliar and evocative of a different age.

    Beowulf does age and does need the help of others in the end when he battles a dragon, but few men are made with the courage that he is, and they fail to help him when he needs it most. He does kill the dragon, but at the cost of his own life.

    Stormy weather requires the proper book and a proper, hot, Scottish tea laced with a few drops of Scotch whiskey. For me

    , those 3,182 lines, added enchantment and necromancy to a world transforming before my eyes into something magical and unknown.

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  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    As a college English major, I studied

    without any great enthusiasm; my real love was for the Romantic poets. And Chaucer, but that might have been partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were studying such bawdy material at BYU. Plus you can still puzzle out

    in its original Middle English, with the help of a few handy annotations, while

    in the original Old English--other than the immortal (at least in my mind) line "Bēowulf is mīn nama"--is beyond a

    As a college English major, I studied

    without any great enthusiasm; my real love was for the Romantic poets. And Chaucer, but that might have been partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were studying such bawdy material at BYU. Plus you can still puzzle out

    in its original Middle English, with the help of a few handy annotations, while

    in the original Old English--other than the immortal (at least in my mind) line "Bēowulf is mīn nama"--is beyond anyone but scholars, and it loses something in translation.

    So I cheerfully forgot about

    until I was puttering around in Barnes and Noble one day, and came across Seamus Heaney's recent translation. I read his forward and was absolutely entranced by its brilliance. Heaney tosses off phrases like "the poem possesses a mythic potency" and talks about the "three archetypal sites of fear: the barricaded night-house, the infested underwater current, and the reptile-haunted rocks of a wilderness." He discusses how we are enveloped "in a society that is at once honour-bound and blood-stained, presided over by the laws of the blood-feud." And he explains in detail how he went about creating a new translation of the poem and the difficulty of finding the right voice:

    Anyway, all this is to explain why, after years of blissfully ignoring

    , I felt compelled to buy this book and give it another try. Did it hold up to my hopes? Well, not quite. I still appreciate

    more than I love it. But I heard the solemn, deliberate voice that Heaney was seeking to use, and I thought he did a great job of translating it as well as possible into modern English while preserving the original feel and intent of the poem. I love the liberal use of alliteration and the compound words (whale-road = sea; ring-giver = king) that are found in the original version of the poem as well as this translation. I felt the side-by-side nobility and brutality of these characters from (it's surmised) 6th century Scandinavia. And I was getting some serious Tolkien vibes from the ending, which is not at all a bad thing.

    In the end, it was a bit of a tough slog reading through the entire poem, but I'm glad I did it. I think I still love Heaney's forward more than I love the actual

    poem. I need to check out J.R.R. Tolkien's

    translation one of these days.

  • Simona Bartolotta

    I'm astounded by the

    of this poem. It makes me wish my Germanic philology course lasted forever so we could analyse it word by word, slowly, meticulously, languidly. This is why I personally suggest reading it with the help of a critical guide if you haven't the faintest idea what it tells about, when it was written and what it seeks to portrait, of the debate about it bein

    I'm astounded by the

    of this poem. It makes me wish my Germanic philology course lasted forever so we could analyse it word by word, slowly, meticulously, languidly. This is why I personally suggest reading it with the help of a critical guide if you haven't the faintest idea what it tells about, when it was written and what it seeks to portrait, of the debate about it being Christian or not, etc.

    If you're willing to do some research by yourself, I promise you're in for a treat.

  • James

    is thought to have been written around the year 1000 AD, give or take a century. And the author is the extremely famous, very popular and world renowned writer... Unknown. Got you there, didn't I? LOL Probably not... if you're on Goodreads and studied American or English literature, you probably already knew this is one of the most famous works without an author.

    It was first really

    in the 1800s, using the Old English version where many have translated it, but there are still so

    is thought to have been written around the year 1000 AD, give or take a century. And the author is the extremely famous, very popular and world renowned writer... Unknown. Got you there, didn't I? LOL Probably not... if you're on Goodreads and studied American or English literature, you probably already knew this is one of the most famous works without an author.

    It was first really

    in the 1800s, using the Old English version where many have translated it, but there are still some blurry parts of the story. Essentially, a monster named Grendel hunts and kills the people of a town and many warriors have died fighting against it. Beowulf tackles the monster and its mother, and well... you're gonna have to read it to find out. Or if you can't get yourself there, watch the Star Trek or Simpsons episode which does a nice little rendition.

    Here's the reasons why you should take a look at the story:

    1. Many famous writers and editors have attempted to translate the story into more modern English. Tolkien is a famous example. Each reader has his/her own interpretation. So pick one whose style you like and go to that version.

    2. It's a translated book... other than the famous Greek literature we read in high school, it's one of the earliest translated forms of literature. Makes it worth taking a gander.

    3. It's a really great story. Monster terrorizes people. Someone strong steps up to fight it. There is a victory of sorts. Momma wants revenge. So... how many books have you read that have just copied... I mean borrowed... that entire plot?

    4. There is a lot of beauty in the prose and the verse, and when you hear the words describe the creatures, it's a bit like fantasy.

    Here's why you may not like it:

    1. It's long.

    2. It's hard to understand at some points.

    3. It's 1000 years old and you just like modern stories.

    My advice... pick a passage or two, read for 30 minutes and decide if it's something you want to read more of. But you should always give a chance to some part of our early heritage and culture. Right?

    For those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at

    , where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

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