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''Beowulf'' (; ang, Bēowulf ) is an Old English
epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem Narrative poetry is a form of poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetics, aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of l ...
in the tradition of
Germanic heroic legend Germanic heroic legend (german: germanische Heldensage) is the heroic literary tradition of the Germanic-speaking peoples, most of which originates or is set in the Migration Period (4th-6th centuries AD). Stories from this time period, to which o ...
consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is one of the most important and most often translated works of
Old English literature Old English literature, or Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses literature written in Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germ ...
. 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 Scandinavia; : ''Skadesi-suolu''/''Skađsuâl''. ( ) is a in , with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. In English usage, ''Scandinavia'' can refer to , , and , sometimes more narrowly to the , or more broadly to include , th ...

Scandinavia
in the 6th century.
Beowulf ''Beowulf'' (; ang, Bēowulf ) is an Old English epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, ...
, a hero of the
Geats The Geats ( ; ang, gēatas ; non, gautar ; sv, götar ), sometimes called ''Geats#Goths, Goths'', were a large North Germanic peoples, North Germanic tribe who inhabited ("land of the Geats") in modern southern Sweden from antiquity until the ...
, comes to the aid of
Hrothgar 200px, Queen Wealhþeow serving Hrothgar (background, centre) and his men. Illustration from a 1908 children's book. Hrothgar ( ang, Hrōðgār ; on, Hróarr) was a List of legendary kings of Denmark, semi-legendary Danish king living around the ea ...
, the king of the
Danes Danes ( da, danskere, ) are a North Germanic peoples, North Germanic ethnic group native to Denmark and a modern nation identified with the country of Denmark. This connection may be ancestral, legal, historical, or cultural. Danes generally re ...
, whose
mead hall (28.5 metres long) in Denmark. Among the early Germanic peoples The Germanic peoples were a historical group of people living in Central Europe and Scandinavia. Since the 19th century, they have traditionally been defined by the use of ancient ...
in
Heorot Heorot or Herot (Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early med ...
has been under attack by the monster
Grendel Grendel is a character in the Anglo-Saxon Epic poetry, epic poem ''Beowulf'' (AD 700–1000). He is one of the poem's three antagonists (along with Grendel's mother, his mother and the The Dragon (Beowulf), dragon), all aligned in opposition agai ...

Grendel
. After Beowulf slays him,
Grendel's mother Grendel's mother ( ang, Grendles mōdor) is one of three antagonists in the anonymous Old English literature, Old English poem ''Beowulf'' (c. 700–1000 AD). The other antagonists are Grendel and the The Dragon (Beowulf), dragon, all aligned in op ...
attacks the hall and is then defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland (
Götaland Götaland (; also '' Geatland'', '' Gothia'', ''Gothland'', ''Gothenland'' or ''Gautland'') is one of three lands of Sweden and comprises ten provinces of Sweden, provinces. Geographically it is located in the south of Sweden, bounded to the nor ...
in modern Sweden) and becomes king of the Geats. Fifty years later, Beowulf defeats a
dragon A dragon is a large, snake, serpentine, legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary considerably through regions, but European dragon, dragons in western cultures since the High Midd ...
, 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. Scholars have debated whether ''Beowulf'' was transmitted orally, affecting its interpretation: if it was composed early, in pagan times, then the paganism is central and the Christian elements were added later, whereas if it was composed later, in writing, by a Christian, then the pagan elements could be decorative archaising; some scholars hold an intermediate position. ''Beowulf'' is mostly written in the
West Saxon dialect West Saxon was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish dialect (Old English), Kentish, Mercian dialect, Mercian and Northumbrian Old English, Northumbrian (the latter two were similar and are known as the Anglia ...
of Old English, but many other dialectal forms are present, suggesting that the poem may have had a long and complex transmission throughout the dialect areas of England. Anglo-Saxon poetry is constructed very differently from a modern poem. There is little use of rhyme, and no fixed number of beats or syllables; the verse is alliterative, meaning that each line is in two halves, separated by a
caesura 100px, An example of a caesura in modern western music notation. A caesura (, . caesuras or caesurae; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was orig ...
, and linked by the presence of stressed syllables with similar sounds. The poet often used formulaic phrases for half-lines, including
kenning A kenning (Modern Icelandic Icelandic (; is, íslenska, link=no ) is a North Germanic language spoken by about 314,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in Iceland where it is the national language. It is most closely related to Faroes ...
s, evocative poetic descriptions compressed into a single compound word. No definite sources or analogues of the poem can be proven, but many suggestions have been made, including the Icelandic ''
Grettis saga ''Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar'' ( ) (also known as ''Grettla'', ''Grettir's Saga'' or ''The Saga of Grettir the Strong'') is one of the Icelanders' sagas The sagas of Icelanders ( is, Íslendingasögur), also known as family sagas, are one genr ...
'', the Norse story of Hrolf Kraki and his bear-
shapeshifting In , and , shapeshifting is the to physically transform oneself through an inherently ability, divine intervention, ic manipulation, , s or having inherited the ability. The idea of shapeshifting is in the oldest forms of ism and , a ...
servant Bodvar Bjarki, the international folktale the Bear's Son Tale, and the Irish folktale of the Hand and the Child. Persistent attempts have been made to link ''Beowulf'' to tales from
Homer Homer (; grc, Ὅμηρος , ''Hómēros'') was the presumed author of the ''Iliad'' and the ''Odyssey'', two epic poems that are the foundational works of ancient Greek literature. The ''Iliad'' is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year s ...

Homer
's ''
Odyssey The ''Odyssey'' (; grc, Ὀδύσσεια, Odýsseia, ) is one of two major ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the used in and the from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following pe ...
'' or
Virgil Publius Vergilius Maro (; traditional dates 15 October 7021 September 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil ( ) in English, was an ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 4 ...

Virgil
's ''
Aeneid The ''Aeneid'' ( ; la, Aenē̆is ) is a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the p ...
''. More definite are Biblical parallels, with clear allusions to the books of
Genesis Genesis may refer to: Literature and comics * Genesis (DC Comics), a 1997 DC Comics crossover * Genesis (Marvel Comics), a Marvel Comics villain * Genesis, a fictional character from the ''Preacher (comics), Preacher'' comic-book series * ''Genes ...

Genesis
,
Exodus Exodus or the Exodus may refer to: Religion *Book of Exodus, second book of the Hebrew Torah and the Christian Bible *The Exodus, the biblical story of the migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt into Canaan Historical events * Jujuy E ...
, and
Daniel Daniel is a masculine Masculinity (also called manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behavior Behavior (American English) or behaviour (British English; American and British English spelling differences#-our, -or, see spelling d ...
. The poem survives in a single copy in the manuscript known as the
Nowell Codex The Nowell Codex is the second of two manuscripts comprising the bound volume Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, one of the four major Anglo-Saxon poetic manuscripts. It is most famous as the manuscript containing the unique copy of the epic poem ''Beowul ...
. It has no title in the original manuscript, but has become known by the name of the story's protagonist. In 1731, the manuscript was damaged by a fire that swept through
Ashburnham House Ashburnham House is an extended seventeenth-century house on Little Dean's Yard in Westminster Westminster is a district in Central London Central London (also known less commonly as London city centre) is the innermost part of London, ...
in London, which was housing Sir Robert Cotton's collection of medieval manuscripts. It survived, but the margins were charred, and some readings were lost. The Nowell Codex is housed in the
British Library The British Library is the national library A national library is a library A library is a curated collection of sources of information and similar resources, made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provid ...

British Library
. The poem was first transcribed in 1786; some verses were first translated into modern English in 1805, and nine complete translations were made in the 19th century, including those by
John Mitchell KembleJohn Mitchell Kemble (2 April 1807 – 26 March 1857), English scholar and historian, was the eldest son of Charles Kemble the actor and Maria Theresa Kemble. He is known for his major contribution to the history of the Anglo-Saxons and philology o ...
and
William Morris William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of tradit ...

William Morris
. From 1900, hundreds of translations, whether into prose, rhyming verse, or alliterative verse were made, some relatively faithful, some archaising, some attempting to domesticate the work. Among the best-known modern translations are those of Edwin Morgan,
Burton Raffel Burton Nathan Raffel (April 27, 1928 – September 29, 2015) was an American writer, translation, translator, poet and professor. He is best known for his vigorous translation of ''Beowulf'', still widely used in universities, colleges and high sch ...
, Michael J. Alexander,
Roy LiuzzaRoy Liuzza is an American scholar of Old English literature. A professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Liuzza is the former editor of the ''Old English Newsletter''. He has published a translation of ''Beowulf'' which was well-received ...
, and
Seamus Heaney Seamus Justin Heaney (; 13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013) was an Irish poet, playwright and translator. He received the 1995 .
Seamus Heaney
. The difficulty of translating ''Beowulf'' has been explored by scholars including J. R. R. Tolkien (in his essay " On Translating ''Beowulf''"), who worked on a verse and a prose translation of his own.


Historical background

The events in the poem take place over most of the sixth century, and feature no English characters. Some suggest that ''Beowulf'' was first composed in the 7th century at
Rendlesham Rendlesham is a village and civil parish near Woodbridge, Suffolk, Woodbridge, Suffolk, United Kingdom. It was a royal centre of authority for the king of the Kingdom of East Anglia, East Angles, of the Wuffinga line; the proximity of the Sutton ...
in
East Anglia East Anglia is a geographical area in the East of England The East of England is one of the nine official regions of England. This region was created in 1994 and was adopted for statistics purposes from 1999. It includes the ceremonial ...
, as the
Sutton Hoo Sutton Hoo is the site of two early medieval The Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period, sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, is typically regarded by historians as lasting from the late 5th or early 6th century to the 10th century. ...
ship-burial shows close connections with Scandinavia, and the East Anglian royal dynasty, the
Wuffingas Image:East Anglian kingdom.svg, 300px, The Kingdom of East Anglia, kingdom of the East Angles during the period it was ruled by the Wuffingas, bordered by the North Sea, the River Stour, Suffolk, River Stour, the Devil's Dyke, Cambridgeshire, Devil' ...
, may have been descendants of the Geatish Wulfings. Others have associated this poem with the court of King
Alfred the Great Alfred the Great (848/49 – 26 October 899) was king of the West Saxons This is a list of monarchs of Wessex until 886 AD. For later monarchs, see the List of English monarchs. While the details of the later monarchs are confirmed by a numbe ...

Alfred the Great
or with the court of King
Cnut the Great Cnut the Great (; ang, Cnut cyning; non, Knútr inn ríki ; or , no, Knut den mektige, sv, Knut den Store. died 12 November 1035), also known as Canute, was King of England This list of kings and queens of the Kingdom of England Th ...
. The poem blends fictional, legendary and historic elements. Although Beowulf himself is not mentioned in any other Anglo-Saxon manuscript, many of the other figures named in ''Beowulf'' appear in Scandinavian sources. This concerns not only individuals (e.g.,
Healfdene Halfdan (, ang, Healfdene, Medieval : "half Dane") was a late 5th and early 6th century legendary Danish king of the Scylding (Skjöldung) lineage, the son of king named Fróði in many accounts, noted mainly as the father to the two kings wh ...
,
Hroðgar 200px, Queen Wealhþeow serving Hrothgar (background, centre) and his men. Illustration from a 1908 children's book. Hrothgar ( ang, Hrōðgār ; on, Hróarr) was a List of legendary kings of Denmark, semi-legendary Danish king living around the e ...
,
Halga (1895). Halga, ''Helgi Helge or Helgi is a Scandinavian, German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see a ...
, Hroðulf,
Eadgils Eadgils, ''Adils'', ''Aðils'', ''Adillus'', ''Aðísl at Uppsölum'', ''Athisl'', ''Athislus'' or ''Adhel'' was a semi-legendary king of Sweden The legendary kings of Sweden () are the legendary rulers of Sweden Sweden (; sv, Sverige ...
and
Ohthere Ohthere (also ''Ohtere''), Old Norse ''Óttarr vendilkráka'' (''Vendelcrow''; in Modern Swedish ''Ottar Vendelkråka'') was a semi-legendary king of Sweden of the house of Yngling, Scylfings, who is said to have lived during the Germanic Heroic ...

Ohthere
), but also
clans A clan is a group of people A people is any plurality of person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic ...
(e.g.,
Scylding Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, whi ...
s,
Scylfings
Scylfings
and Wulfings) and certain events (e.g., the battle between Eadgils and Onela). The raid by King
Hygelac Hygelac ( ang, Hygelāc; non, Hugleikr; gem-x-proto, Hugilaikaz; la, Ch(l)ochilaicus or ''Hugilaicus''; died 521) was a king of the Geats according to the poem ''Beowulf''. It is Hygelac's presence in the poem which has allowed scholars to t ...
into
Frisia Frisia (, ; ) is a cross-border Borders are geographic Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systemat ...

Frisia
is mentioned by
Gregory of Tours Gregory of Tours (30 November 538 – 17 November 594 AD) was a Gallo-Roman The term "Gallo-Roman" describes the Romanization (cultural), Romanized culture of Gaul under the rule of the Roman Empire. This was characterized by the Gaulish ...
in his ''History of the
Franks The Franks ( la, Franci or ) were a group of whose name was first mentioned in 3rd-century Roman sources, and associated with tribes between the and the , on the edge of the . Later the term was associated with Germanic dynasties within the ...

Franks
'' and can be dated to around 521. In Denmark, recent archaeological excavations at
Lejre Lejre is a railway town, with a population of 2,834 (1 January 2021),Heorot Heorot or Herot (Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early med ...
, have revealed that a hall was built in the mid-6th century, matching the period described in ''Beowulf'', some centuries before the poem was composed. Three halls, each about long, were found during the excavation. The majority view appears to be that figures such as King Hroðgar and the Scyldings in ''Beowulf'' are based on historical people from 6th-century Scandinavia. Like the ''
Finnesburg Fragment The "Finnesburg Fragment" (also "Finnsburh Fragment") is a portion of an Old English language, Old English heroic poem about a fight in which Hnæf and his 60 retainers are besieged at "Finn's fort" and attempt to hold off their attackers. The survi ...
'' and several shorter surviving poems, ''Beowulf'' has consequently been used as a source of information about Scandinavian figures such as Eadgils and Hygelac, and about continental Germanic figures such as
Offa Offa (died 29 July 796 AD) was King King is the title given to a male in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is , which title is also given to the of a king. *In the context of prehistory, antiquity and contemporary indi ...
, king of the continental
Angles The Angles ( ang, Ængle, ; la, Angli; german: Angeln) were one of the main Germanic peoples The Germanic peoples were a historical group of people living in Central Europe and Scandinavia. Since the 19th century, they have traditional ...

Angles
. 19th-century archaeological evidence may confirm elements of the ''Beowulf'' story. Eadgils was buried at Uppsala (
Gamla Uppsala Gamla, alt. sp. Gamala ( he, גַּמְלָא, The Camel) was an ancient Jewish city on the Golan Heights. It is believed to have been founded as a Seleucid fort during the Syrian Wars which was turned into a city under Hasmonean dynasty, Hasmo ...

Gamla Uppsala
, Sweden) according to
Snorri Sturluson Snorri Sturluson (Old Norse: ; ; 1179 – 23 September 1241) was an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician. He was elected twice as lawspeaker of the Icelandic parliament, the Althing. He is commonly thought to have authored or compiled port ...
. When the western mound (to the left in the photo) was excavated in 1874, the finds showed that a powerful man was buried in a large barrow, c. 575, on a bear skin with two dogs and rich grave offerings. The eastern mound was excavated in 1854, and contained the remains of a woman, or a woman and a young man. The middle barrow has not been excavated.


Summary

The protagonist
Beowulf ''Beowulf'' (; ang, Bēowulf ) is an Old English epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, ...
, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the
Danes Danes ( da, danskere, ) are a North Germanic peoples, North Germanic ethnic group native to Denmark and a modern nation identified with the country of Denmark. This connection may be ancestral, legal, historical, or cultural. Danes generally re ...
, whose great hall,
Heorot Heorot or Herot (Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early med ...
, is plagued by the monster
Grendel Grendel is a character in the Anglo-Saxon Epic poetry, epic poem ''Beowulf'' (AD 700–1000). He is one of the poem's three antagonists (along with Grendel's mother, his mother and the The Dragon (Beowulf), dragon), all aligned in opposition agai ...

Grendel
. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands, then kills Grendel's mother with a giant's sword that he found in her lair. Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorized by a
dragon A dragon is a large, snake, serpentine, legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary considerably through regions, but European dragon, dragons in western cultures since the High Midd ...
, some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his ''
thegn The term ''thegn'', also thane, or thayn in Shakespearean English Early Modern English or Early New English (sometimes abbreviated EModE, EMnE, or EME) is the stage of the English language from the beginning of the Tudor period to the English ...
s'' or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon to its lair at Earnanæs, but only his young Swedish relative
Wiglaf Wiglaf (Proto-Norse: *''wikt:Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/wīgą, Wīgawikt:Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/laibō, laibaz'', meaning "battle remainder"; ang, Wīġlāf ) is a character in the Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Saxon epic poem ''Beowulf''. He is ...

Wiglaf
, whose name means "remnant of valour", dares to join him. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour. ''Beowulf'' is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poem begins ''
in medias res A narrative work beginning ''in medias res'' (, "into the middle of things") opens in the midst of the plot (cf. ''ab ovo ''Ab ovo'' is Latin for "from the beginning, the origin, the egg (biology), egg". The term is a reference to one of the twin ...

in medias res
'' or simply, "in the middle of things", a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf's arrival, Grendel's attacks have been ongoing. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour. The warriors form a brotherhood linked by loyalty to their lord. The poem begins and ends with funerals: at the beginning of the poem for Scyld Scefing and at the end for Beowulf. The poem is tightly structured. E. Carrigan shows the symmetry of its design in a model of its major components, with for instance the account of the killing of Grendel matching that of the killing of the dragon, the glory of the Danes matching the accounts of the Danish and Geatish courts.


First battle: Grendel

''Beowulf'' begins with the story of Hrothgar, who constructed the great hall, Heorot, for himself and his warriors. In it, he, his wife Wealhtheow, and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating. Grendel, a
troll A troll is a being in Scandinavian folklore Scandinavian folklore or Nordic folklore is the folklore of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and the Faroes, Faroe Islands. It has common roots with, and has been mutually influenced by, folklore i ...

troll
-like monster said to be descended from the biblical
Cain Cain ''Káïn''; ar, قابيل/قايين, Qābīl/Qāyīn is a Biblical figure in the Book of Genesis The Book of Genesis,, "''Bərēšīṯ''", "In hebeginning" the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, is an ...
, is pained by the sounds of joy. Grendel attacks the hall and kills and devours many of Hrothgar's warriors while they sleep. Hrothgar and his people, helpless against Grendel, abandon Heorot. Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hrothgar's troubles and with his king's permission leaves his homeland to assist Hrothgar. Beowulf and his men spend the night in Heorot. Beowulf refuses to use any weapon because he holds himself to be Grendel's equal. When Grendel enters the hall, Beowulf, who has been feigning sleep, leaps up to clench Grendel's hand. Grendel and Beowulf battle each other violently. Beowulf's retainers draw their swords and rush to his aid, but their blades cannot pierce Grendel's skin. Finally, Beowulf tears Grendel's arm from his body at the shoulder and Grendel runs to his home in the marshes where he dies. Beowulf displays "the whole of Grendel's shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp" for all to see at Heorot. This display would fuel Grendel's mother's anger in revenge.


Second battle: Grendel's mother

The next night, after celebrating Grendel's defeat, Hrothgar and his men sleep in Heorot. Grendel's mother, angry that her son has been killed, sets out to get revenge. "Beowulf was elsewhere. Earlier, after the award of treasure, The Geat had been given another lodging"; his assistance would be absent in this battle. Grendel's mother violently kills Æschere, who is Hrothgar's most loyal fighter, and escapes. Hrothgar, Beowulf, and their men track Grendel's mother to her lair under a lake.
Unferð " Beowulf replies haughtily to Hunferth" (1910) by John Henry F. Bacon In the Old English epic poem ''Beowulf'', Unferth or Hunferth is a thegn (a retainer, servant) of the Denmark, Danish lord Hrothgar. His name appears four times in the poem (a ...
, a warrior who had earlier challenged him, presents Beowulf with his sword
Hrunting Hrunting was a sword given to Beowulf (hero), Beowulf by Unferth in the ancient Old English language, Old English epic poem ''Beowulf''. Beowulf used it in battle against Grendel's Mother (Beowulf), Grendel's Mother. Beowulf is described receiving ...
. After stipulating a number of conditions to Hrothgar in case of his death (including the taking in of his kinsmen and the inheritance by Unferth of Beowulf's estate), Beowulf jumps into the lake, and while harassed by water monsters gets to the bottom, where he finds a cavern. Grendel's mother pulls him in, and she and Beowulf engage in fierce combat. At first, Grendel's mother prevails, and Hrunting proves incapable of hurting her; she throws Beowulf to the ground and, sitting astride him, tries to kill him with a short sword, but Beowulf is saved by his armour. Beowulf spots another sword, hanging on the wall and apparently made for giants, and cuts her head off with it. Travelling further into Grendel's mother's lair, Beowulf discovers Grendel's corpse and severs his head with the sword. Its blade melts because of the monster's "hot blood", leaving only the hilt. Beowulf swims back up to the edge of the lake where his men wait. Carrying the hilt of the sword and Grendel's head, he presents them to Hrothgar upon his return to Heorot. Hrothgar gives Beowulf many gifts, including the sword
Nægling Næġling () is the name of one of the swords used by Beowulf ''Beowulf'' (; ang, Bēowulf ) is an Old English epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred th ...
, his family's heirloom. The events prompt a long reflection by the king, sometimes referred to as "Hrothgar's sermon", in which he urges Beowulf to be wary of pride and to reward his thegns.


Final battle: The dragon

Beowulf returns home and eventually becomes king of his own people. One day, fifty years after Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother, a
slave Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave, who is someone forbidden to quit their service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as their property Property is a system of rights that gives ...

slave
steals a golden cup from the lair of a dragon at Earnanæs. When the dragon sees that the cup has been stolen, it leaves its cave in a rage, burning everything in sight. Beowulf and his warriors come to fight the dragon, but Beowulf tells his men that he will fight the dragon alone and that they should wait on the barrow. Beowulf descends to do battle with the dragon, but finds himself outmatched. His men, upon seeing this and fearing for their lives, retreat into the woods. One of his men, Wiglaf, however, in great distress at Beowulf's plight, comes to his aid. The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. After Beowulf dies, Wiglaf remains by his side, grief-stricken. When the rest of the men finally return, Wiglaf bitterly admonishes them, blaming their cowardice for Beowulf's death. Afterward, Beowulf is ritually burned on a great pyre in Geatland while his people wail and mourn him, fearing that without him, the Geats are defenceless against attacks from surrounding tribes. Afterwards, a barrow, visible from the sea, is built in his memory.


Digressions

The poem contains many apparent digressions from the main story. These were found troublesome by early ''Beowulf'' scholars such as
Frederick Klaeber Frederick J. Klaeber (born Friedrich J. Klaeber) (1 October 1863 – 4 October 1954) was a German philologist Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary crit ...
, who wrote that they "interrupt the story", W. W. Lawrence, who stated that they "clog the action and distract attention from it", and W. P. Ker who found some "irrelevant ... possibly ... interpolations". More recent scholars from Adrien Bonjour onwards note that the digressions can all be explained as introductions or comparisons with elements of the main story; for instance, Beowulf's swimming home across the sea from Frisia carrying thirty sets of armour emphasises his heroic strength. The digressions can be divided into four groups, namely the Scyld narrative at the start; many descriptions of the Geats, including the Swedish–Geatish wars, the "Lay of the Last Survivor" in the style of another Old English poem, " The Wanderer", and Beowulf's dealings with the Geats such as his verbal contest with Unferth and his swimming duel with Breca, and the tale of and the dragon; history and legend, including the fight at Finnsburg and the tale of Freawaru and Ingeld; and biblical tales such as the creation myth and
Cain Cain ''Káïn''; ar, قابيل/قايين, Qābīl/Qāyīn is a Biblical figure in the Book of Genesis The Book of Genesis,, "''Bərēšīṯ''", "In hebeginning" the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, is an ...
as ancestor of all monsters. The digressions provide a powerful impression of historical depth, imitated by Tolkien in ''
The Lord of the Rings ''The Lord of the Rings'' is an Epic (genre), epic high-fantasy novel by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. Set in Middle-earth, intended to be Earth at some distant time in the past, the story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 ...
'', a work that embodies many other elements from the poem.


Authorship and date

The dating of ''Beowulf'' has attracted considerable scholarly attention; opinion differs as to whether it was first written in the 8th century, whether it was nearly contemporary with its eleventh century manuscript, and whether a proto-version (possibly a version of the Bear's Son Tale) was orally transmitted before being transcribed in its present form.
Albert Lord Albert Bates Lord (September 15, 1912 – July 29, 1991) was a professor of Slavic and comparative literature at Harvard, Harvard University who, after the death of Milman Parry, carried on that scholar's research into Epic poetry, epic literature ...
felt strongly that the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting. J. R. R. Tolkien believed that the poem retains too genuine a memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism to have been composed more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianisation of England around AD 700, and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by scholars including
Tom Shippey Thomas Alan Shippey (born 9 September 1943) is a British scholar and retired professor of Middle and Old English literature, as well as medievalism Medievalism is a system of belief and practice inspired by the Middle Ages of Europe, or by d ...
,
Leonard Neidorf Leonard Neidorf (born c. 1988) is an American philologist who is Professor of English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon Engla ...
, Rafael J. Pascual, and Robert D. Fulk. An analysis of several Old English poems by a team including Neidorf suggests that Beowulf is the work of a single author. The claim to an early 11th-century date depends in part on scholars who argue that, rather than the transcription of a tale from the oral tradition by an earlier literate monk, ''Beowulf'' reflects an original interpretation of an earlier version of the story by the manuscript's two scribes. On the other hand, some scholars argue that linguistic, palaeographical (handwriting), metrical (poetic structure), and
onomastic Onomastics or onomatology is the study of the etymology, history, and use of proper names. An ''wikt:orthonym, orthonym'' is the proper name of the object in question, the object of onomastic study. Onomastics can be helpful in data mining, with ap ...
(naming) considerations align to support a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century; in particular, the poem's apparent observation of etymological vowel-length distinctions in unstressed syllables (described by Kaluza's law) has been thought to demonstrate a date of composition prior to the earlier ninth century. However, scholars disagree about whether the metrical phenomena described by Kaluza's Law prove an early date of composition or are evidence of a longer prehistory of the Beowulf metre; B.R. Hutcheson, for instance, does not believe Kaluza's Law can be used to date the poem, while claiming that "the weight of all the evidence Fulk presents in his book tells strongly in favour of an eighth-century date." From an analysis of creative genealogy and ethnicity, Craig R. Davis suggests a composition date in the AD 890s, when King Alfred of England had secured the submission of
Guthrum Guthrum ( ang, Guðrum, c. 835 – c. 890) was King of East Anglia East Anglia is a geographical area in the East of England The East of England is one of the nine official regions of England. This region was created in 1994 and was ...
, leader of a division of the
Great Heathen Army The Great Heathen Army ( ang, mycel hæþen here; da, Store Hedenske Hær), also known as the Viking Great Army,Hadley. "The Winter Camp of the Viking Great Army, AD 872–3, Torksey, Lincolnshire", ''Antiquaries Journal''. 96, pp. 23–67 ...
of the Danes, and of Aethelred, ealdorman of Mercia. In this thesis, the trend of appropriating Gothic royal ancestry, established in
Francia Francia, also called the Kingdom of the Franks ( la, Regnum Francorum), Frankish Kingdom, Frankland or Frankish Empire, was the largest History of the Roman Empire, post-Roman barbarian kingdom in Western Europe. It was ruled by the Franks du ...

Francia
during reign, influenced the Anglian kingdoms of Britain to attribute to themselves a
Geatish The Geats ( ; ang, gēatas ; non, gautar ; sv, götar ), sometimes called ''Goths The Goths ( got, 𐌲𐌿𐍄𐌸𐌹𐌿𐌳𐌰, translit=''Gutþiuda''; la, Gothi) were a Germanic people who played a major role in the fall of the Wester ...
descent. The composition of ''Beowulf'' was the fruit of the later adaptation of this trend in Alfred's policy of asserting authority over the '' Angelcynn'', in which Scyldic descent was attributed to the West-Saxon royal pedigree. This date of composition largely agrees with Lapidge's positing of a West-Saxon exemplar c.900. The location of the poem's composition is intensely disputed. In 1914, F.W. Moorman, the first professor of English Language at
University of Leeds , mottoeng = And knowledge will be increased , established = 1831 – Leeds School of Medicine The School of Medicine is the medical school of the University of Leeds, in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. The School of Medicine wa ...
, claimed that ''Beowulf'' was composed in Yorkshire, but E. Talbot Donaldson claims that it was probably composed more than twelve hundred years ago, during the first half of the eighth century, and that the writer was a native of what was then called West Mercia, located in the Western Midlands of England. However, the late tenth-century manuscript "which alone preserves the poem" originated in the kingdom of the
West Saxons Wessex (; ang, Westseaxna rīċe , 'the Kingdom of the West Saxons') was an Anglo-Saxon The Anglo-Saxons were a who inhabited . They traced their origins to the 5th century settlement of incomers to Britain, who migrated to the island f ...

West Saxons
– as it is more commonly known.


Manuscript

''Beowulf'' survived to modern times in a single manuscript, written in ink on
parchment Parchment is a writing material Writing material refers to the materials that provide the surfaces on which humans use writing instruments A writing implement or writing instrument is an object used to produce writing Writing is a mediu ...

parchment
, later damaged by fire. The manuscript measures 245 × 185 mm.


Provenance

The poem is known only from a single manuscript, estimated to date from around 975–1025, in which it appears with other works. The manuscript therefore dates either to the reign of
Æthelred the Unready Æthelred (Old English: ''Æþelræd'', ;Different spellings of this king’s name most commonly found in modern texts are "Ethelred" and "Æthelred" (or "Aethelred"), the latter being closer to the original Old English language, Old English fo ...
, characterised by strife with the Danish king
Sweyn Forkbeard Sweyn Forkbeard ( non, Sveinn Haraldsson tjúguskegg, ; da, Svend Tveskæg; 17 April 963 – 3 February 1014) was king of Denmark The monarchy of Denmark is a constitutional political system, institution and a historic office of the ...

Sweyn Forkbeard
, or to the beginning of the reign of Sweyn's son Cnut the Great from 1016. The ''Beowulf'' manuscript is known as the Nowell Codex, gaining its name from 16th-century scholar
Laurence Nowell Laurence (or Lawrence) Nowell (1530 – c.1570) was an English antiquarian, cartographer and pioneering scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature. Life Laurence Nowell was born around 1530 in Whalley, Lancashire Whalley is a large vill ...
. The official designation is "
British Library The British Library is the national library A national library is a library A library is a curated collection of sources of information and similar resources, made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provid ...

British Library
, Cotton Vitellius A.XV" because it was one of
Sir Robert Bruce Cotton Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, 1st Baronet (22 January 1570/1 – 6 May 1631) of Conington Hall in the parish of Conington, Huntingdonshire, Conington in Huntingdonshire, England,Kyle, Chris & Sgroi was a Member of Parliament and an antiquarian who f ...
's holdings in the
Cotton library The Cotton or Cottonian library is a collection of manuscripts once owned by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, 1st Baronet (22 January 1570/1 – 6 May 1631) of Conington Hall in the parish of Conington in Huntingdonshire, Englan ...
in the middle of the 17th century. Many private antiquarians and book collectors, such as Sir Robert Cotton, used their own
library classification A library classification is a system of knowledge organization by which library resources are arranged and ordered systematically. Library classifications a notational system that represents the order of topics in the classification and allows i ...
systems. "Cotton Vitellius A.XV" translates as: the 15th book from the left on shelf A (the top shelf) of the bookcase with the bust of Roman Emperor
Vitellius Aulus Vitellius (; ; 24 September 1520 December 69) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Of ...
standing on top of it, in Cotton's collection. Kevin Kiernan argues that Nowell most likely acquired it through
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (13 September 15204 August 1598) was an English statesman, the chief adviser of Queen Elizabeth I Elizabeth I (7 September 153324 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, ...
, in 1563, when Nowell entered Cecil's household as a
tutor Tutoring is private academic support, usually provided by an expert teacher; someone with deep knowledge or defined expertise in a particular subject or set of subjects. A tutor, formally also called an academic tutor, is a person who provides ...

tutor
to his ward,
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (; 12 April 155024 June 1604) was an English peer and courtier of the Elizabethan era The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the Tudor period of the history of England during the reign of Queen Eliza ...
. The earliest extant reference to the first foliation of the Nowell Codex was made sometime between 1628 and 1650 by
Franciscus Junius (the younger) Franciscus Junius (29 January 1591 – 1677), also known as François du Jon, was a pioneer of Germanic languages, Germanic philology. As a collector of ancient manuscripts, he published the first modern editions of a number of important texts. In ...
. The ownership of the codex before Nowell remains a mystery. The Reverend Thomas Smith (1638–1710) and
Humfrey Wanley Humfrey Wanley (21 March 1672 – 6 July 1726) was an English librarian, palaeographer Palaeography (American and British English spelling differences#Simplification of ae and oe, UK) or paleography (American and British English spelling di ...
(1672–1726) both catalogued the Cotton library (in which the Nowell Codex was held). Smith's catalogue appeared in 1696, and Wanley's in 1705. The ''Beowulf'' manuscript itself is identified by name for the first time in an exchange of letters in 1700 between George Hickes, Wanley's assistant, and Wanley. In the letter to Wanley, Hickes responds to an apparent charge against Smith, made by Wanley, that Smith had failed to mention the ''Beowulf'' script when cataloguing Cotton MS. Vitellius A. XV. Hickes replies to Wanley "I can find nothing yet of Beowulph." Kiernan theorised that Smith failed to mention the ''Beowulf'' manuscript because of his reliance on previous catalogues or because either he had no idea how to describe it or because it was temporarily out of the codex. The manuscript passed to Crown ownership in 1702, on the death of its then owner, Sir John Cotton, who had inherited it from his grandfather, Robert Cotton. It suffered damage in a fire at
Ashburnham House Ashburnham House is an extended seventeenth-century house on Little Dean's Yard in Westminster Westminster is a district in Central London Central London (also known less commonly as London city centre) is the innermost part of London, ...
in 1731, in which around a quarter of the manuscripts bequeathed by Cotton were destroyed. Since then, parts of the manuscript have crumbled along with many of the letters. Rebinding efforts, though saving the manuscript from much degeneration, have nonetheless covered up other letters of the poem, causing further loss. Kiernan, in preparing his electronic edition of the manuscript, used fibre-optic backlighting and ultraviolet lighting to reveal letters in the manuscript lost from binding, erasure, or ink blotting.


Writing

The ''Beowulf'' manuscript was transcribed from an original by two scribes, one of whom wrote the prose at the beginning of the manuscript and the first 1939 lines, before breaking off in mid-sentence. The first scribe made a point of carefully regularizing the spelling of the original document into the common West Saxon, removing any archaic or dialectical features. The second scribe, who wrote the remainder, with a difference in handwriting noticeable after line 1939, seems to have written more vigorously and with less interest. As a result, the second scribe's script retains more archaic dialectic features, which allow modern scholars to ascribe the poem a cultural context. While both scribes appear to have proofread their work, there are nevertheless many errors. The second scribe was ultimately the more conservative copyist as he did not modify the spelling of the text as he wrote, but copied what he saw in front of him. In the way that it is currently bound, the ''Beowulf'' manuscript is followed by the Old English poem '' Judith''. ''Judith'' was written by the same scribe that completed ''Beowulf'', as evidenced by similar writing style. Wormholes found in the last leaves of the ''Beowulf'' manuscript that are absent in the ''Judith'' manuscript suggest that at one point ''Beowulf'' ended the volume. The rubbed appearance of some leaves suggests that the manuscript stood on a shelf unbound, as was the case with other Old English manuscripts. Knowledge of books held in the library at
Malmesbury Abbey Malmesbury Abbey, at Malmesbury in Wiltshire, England, is a religious house dedicated to Saint Peter and Paul the Apostle, Saint Paul. It was one of the few English houses with a continuous history from the 7th century through to the Dissolution o ...

Malmesbury Abbey
and available as source works, as well as the identification of certain words particular to the local dialect found in the text, suggest that the transcription may have taken place there.


Performance

The scholar
Roy LiuzzaRoy Liuzza is an American scholar of Old English literature. A professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Liuzza is the former editor of the ''Old English Newsletter''. He has published a translation of ''Beowulf'' which was well-received ...
notes that the practice of oral poetry is by its nature invisible to history as evidence is in writing. Comparison with other bodies of verse such as Homer's, coupled with ethnographic observation of early 20th century performers, has provided a vision of how an Anglo-Saxon singer-poet or
scop A ( or ) was a poet as represented in Old English literature#Poetry, Old English poetry. The scop is the Old English counterpart of the Old Norse ', with the important difference that "skald" was applied to historical persons, and scop is used ...
may have practised. The resulting model is that performance was based on traditional stories and a repertoire of word formulae that fitted the traditional metre. The scop moved through the scenes, such as putting on armour or crossing the sea, each one improvised at each telling with differing combinations of the stock phrases, while the basic story and style remained the same. Liuzza notes that ''Beowulf'' itself describes the technique of a court poet in assembling materials, in lines 867–874 in his translation, "full of grand stories, mindful of songs ... found other words truly bound together; ... to recite with skill the adventure of Beowulf, adeptly tell a tall tale, and (''wordum wrixlan'') weave his words." The poem further mentions (lines 1065-1068) that "the harp was touched, tales often told, when Hrothgar's scop was set to recite among the mead tables his hall-entertainment".


Debate over oral tradition

The question of whether ''Beowulf'' was passed down through
oral tradition Oral tradition, or oral lore, is a form of human communication Human communication, or anthroposemiotics, is the field dedicated to understanding how human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of prima ...
prior to its present
manuscript A manuscript (abbreviated MS for singular and MSS for plural) was, traditionally, any document written by hand – or, once practical typewriter A typewriter is a or machine for characters. Typically, a typewriter has an array ...

manuscript
form has been the subject of much debate, and involves more than simply the issue of its composition. Rather, given the implications of the theory of oral-formulaic composition and oral tradition, the question concerns how the poem is to be understood, and what sorts of interpretations are legitimate. In his landmark 1960 work, ''
The Singer of Tales ''The Singer of Tales'' is a book by Albert Lord Albert Bates Lord (September 15, 1912 – July 29, 1991) was a professor of Slavic and comparative literature at Harvard University Harvard University is a Private university, private Ivy Leag ...
'', Albert Lord, citing the work of
Francis Peabody Magoun Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. Military Cross, MC (6 January 1895 – 5 June 1979) was one of the seminal figures in the study of medieval and English literature in the 20th century, a scholar of subjects as varied as soccer and ancient Germanic ...

Francis Peabody Magoun
and others, considered it proven that ''Beowulf'' was composed orally. Later scholars have not all been convinced; they agree that "themes" like "arming the hero" or the "hero on the beach" do exist across Germanic works, some scholars conclude that Anglo-Saxon poetry is a mix of oral-formulaic and literate patterns. Larry Benson proposed that Germanic literature contains "kernels of tradition" which ''Beowulf'' expands upon.Foley, John M. ''Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research: An Introduction and Annotated Bibliography''. New York: Garland, 1985. p. 126 Ann Watts argued against the imperfect application of one theory to two different traditions: traditional, Homeric, oral-formulaic poetry and Anglo-Saxon poetry. Thomas Gardner agreed with Watts, arguing that the ''Beowulf'' text is too varied to be completely constructed from set formulae and themes.
John Miles Foley Image:JMF February 2011.jpg, John Miles Foley John Miles Foley (January 22, 1947 – May 3, 2012) was a scholar of comparative oral tradition, particularly medieval literature, medieval and Old English literature, Homer and Serbian literature, Serbi ...
wrote that comparative work must observe the particularities of a given tradition; in his view, there was a fluid continuum from traditionality to textuality.


Editions and translations


Editions

Many editions of the Old English text of ''Beowulf'' have been published; this section lists the most influential. The Icelandic scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin made the first transcriptions of the ''Beowulf''-manuscript in 1786, working as part of a Danish government historical research commission. He made one himself, and had another done by a professional copyist who knew no Old English (and was therefore in some ways more likely to make transcription errors, but in other ways more likely to copy exactly what he saw). Since that time, the manuscript has crumbled further, making these transcripts prized witnesses to the text. While the recovery of at least 2000 letters can be attributed to them, their accuracy has been called into question, and the extent to which the manuscript was actually more readable in Thorkelin's time is uncertain. Thorkelin used these transcriptions as the basis for the first complete edition of ''Beowulf'', in Latin. In 1922,
Frederick Klaeber Frederick J. Klaeber (born Friedrich J. Klaeber) (1 October 1863 – 4 October 1954) was a German philologist Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary crit ...
published his edition '' Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg''; it became the "central source used by graduate students for the study of the poem and by scholars and teachers as the basis of their translations." The edition included an extensive glossary of Old English terms. His third edition was published in 1936, with the last version in his lifetime being a revised reprint in 1950. Klaeber's text was re-presented with new introductory material, notes, and glosses, in a fourth edition in 2008. Another widely used edition is Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie's, published in 1953 in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records series. The British Library, meanwhile, took a prominent role in supporting Kevin Kiernan's ''
Electronic Beowulf Electronic may refer to: *Electronics, the science of how to control electric energy in semiconductor *Electronics (magazine), ''Electronics'' (magazine), a defunct American trade journal *Electronic storage, the storage of data using an electronic ...
''; the first edition appeared in 1999, and the fourth in 2014.


Translations

The tightly-interwoven structure of Old English poetry makes translating ''Beowulf'' a severe technical challenge. Despite this, a great number of translations and adaptations are available, in poetry and prose. Andy Orchard, in ''A Critical Companion to Beowulf'', lists 33 "representative" translations in his bibliography, while the
Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS) was established in 1981, by the Arizona Board of Regents as a state-wide, tri-university research unit that bridges the intellectual communities at Arizona State University Arizona ...
published
Marijane Osborn Marijane Osborn (born 1934) is an American academic. Her research spans literary disciplines, she is a specialist in Old English and Norse literature, and she has published on Anglo-Saxon runes, runes, Middle English, Victorian and contemporary poet ...
's annotated list of over 300 translations and adaptations in 2003. ''Beowulf'' has been translated many times in verse and in prose, and adapted for stage and screen. By 2020, the Beowulf's Afterlives Bibliographic Database listed some 688 translations and other versions of the poem. ''Beowulf'' has been translated into at least 38 other languages. In 1805, the historian
Sharon Turner Sharon Turner (24 September 1768 – 13 February 1847) was an English historian. Life Born in Pentonville Pentonville is an area on the northern fringe of Central London, in the London Borough of Islington. It is located north-northeast o ...
translated selected verses into
modern English Modern English (sometimes New English or NE (ME) as opposed to Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conquest of England, Norman conquest (1066) until the late 15th cen ...

modern English
. This was followed in 1814 by
John Josias ConybeareJohn Josias Conybeare (1779–1824), the elder brother of William Daniel Conybeare William Daniel Conybeare Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS (7 June 178712 August 1857), dean of Llandaff, was an English geologist, palaeontologist and clergyman. He ...
who published an edition "in English paraphrase and Latin verse translation."
N. F. S. Grundtvig Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (; 8 September 1783 – 2 September 1872), most often referred to as N. F. S. Grundtvig, was a Denmark, Danish pastor, author, poet, philosopher, historian, teacher and politician. He was one of the most influen ...

N. F. S. Grundtvig
reviewed Thorkelin's edition in 1815 and created the first complete verse translation in Danish in 1820. In 1837,
John Mitchell KembleJohn Mitchell Kemble (2 April 1807 – 26 March 1857), English scholar and historian, was the eldest son of Charles Kemble the actor and Maria Theresa Kemble. He is known for his major contribution to the history of the Anglo-Saxons and philology o ...
created an important literal translation in English. In 1895,
William Morris William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of tradit ...

William Morris
and A. J. Wyatt published the ninth English translation. In 1909,
Francis Barton Gummere Francis Barton Gummere (b. Burlington, New Jersey March 6, 1855 - d. Haverford, Pennsylvania May 30, 1919) was an influential scholar of folklore and ancient languages, a student of Francis James Child. Early life Gummere was a descendant of an old ...
's full translation in "English imitative metre" was published, and was used as the text of Gareth Hinds's 2007 graphic novel based on ''Beowulf''. In 1975, John Porter published the first complete verse translation of the poem entirely accompanied by facing-page Old English.
Seamus Heaney Seamus Justin Heaney (; 13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013) was an Irish poet, playwright and translator. He received the 1995 .
Seamus Heaney
's 1999 translation of the poem ('' Beowulf: A New Verse Translation'', called "Heaneywulf" by Howell Chickering and many others) was both praised and criticized. The US publication was commissioned by W. W. Norton & Company, and was included in the ''Norton Anthology of English Literature''. Many retellings of ''Beowulf'' for children appeared in the 20th century. In 2000 (2nd edition 2013), Liuzza published his own version of ''Beowulf'' in a parallel text with the Old English, with his analysis of the poem's historical, oral, religious and linguistic contexts. R. D. Fulk, of
Indiana University Indiana University (IU) is a major multicampus public research institution, grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. Indiana University’s mission is to provide broad access to undergraduate and graduate education for students throughout Ind ...
, published a facing-page edition and translation of the entire
Nowell Codex The Nowell Codex is the second of two manuscripts comprising the bound volume Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, one of the four major Anglo-Saxon poetic manuscripts. It is most famous as the manuscript containing the unique copy of the epic poem ''Beowul ...
manuscript in 2010. Hugh Magennis's 2011 ''Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse'' discusses the challenges and history of translating the poem, as well as the question of how to approach its poetry, and discusses several post-1950 verse translations, paying special attention to those of Edwin Morgan,
Burton Raffel Burton Nathan Raffel (April 27, 1928 – September 29, 2015) was an American writer, translation, translator, poet and professor. He is best known for his vigorous translation of ''Beowulf'', still widely used in universities, colleges and high sch ...
, Michael J. Alexander, and Seamus Heaney. Translating ''Beowulf'' is one of the subjects of the 2012 publication ''Beowulf at Kalamazoo'', containing a section with 10 essays on translation, and a section with 22 reviews of Heaney's translation,some of which compare Heaney's work with Liuzza's. Tolkien's long-awaited translation (edited by his son
Christopher Christopher is the English language, English version of a Europe-wide name derived from the Greek language, Greek name Χριστόφορος (''Christóforos''). The constituent parts are Χριστός (''Christós''), "Christ (title), Christ" or ...
) was published in 2014 as '' Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary''. The book includes Tolkien's own retelling of the story of Beowulf in his tale ''Sellic Spell'', but not his incomplete and unpublished verse translation. '' The Mere Wife'', by
Maria Dahvana Headley Maria Dahvana Headley (born June 21, 1977) is an American novelist, memoirist, editor, and playwright. She is a ''New York Times''-bestselling author as well as editor. Her work includes the young-adult space-fantasy novel ''Magonia'' and ''Queen ...
, was published in 2018. It relocates the action to a wealthy community in 20th century America and is told primarily from the point of view of Grendel's mother. In 2020, Headley published a translation in which the opening "Hwæt!" is rendered "Bro!".


Sources and analogues

Neither identified sources nor analogues for ''Beowulf'' can be definitively proven, but many conjectures have been made. These are important in helping historians understand the ''Beowulf'' manuscript, as possible source-texts or influences would suggest time-frames of composition, geographic boundaries within which it could be composed, or range (both spatial and temporal) of influence (i.e. when it was "popular" and where its "popularity" took it). The poem has been related to Scandinavian, Celtic, and international folkloric sources.


Scandinavian parallels and sources

19th century studies proposed that ''Beowulf'' was translated from a lost original Scandinavian work; surviving Scandinavian works have continued to be studied as possible sources. In 1886 Gregor Sarrazin suggested that an
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skades ...
original version of ''Beowulf'' must have existed, but in 1914 Carl Wilhelm von Sydow pointed out that ''Beowulf'' is fundamentally
Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus Christ. The words ''Christ (title), Christ'' and ''Christian'' derive from the Koi ...

Christian
and was written at a time when any Norse tale would have most likely been
pagan Paganism (from classical Latin Classical Latin is the form of Latin language Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, includ ...
. Another proposal was a parallel with the ''
Grettis Saga ''Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar'' ( ) (also known as ''Grettla'', ''Grettir's Saga'' or ''The Saga of Grettir the Strong'') is one of the Icelanders' sagas The sagas of Icelanders ( is, Íslendingasögur), also known as family sagas, are one genr ...
'', but in 1998, Magnús Fjalldal challenged that, stating that tangential similarities were being overemphasized as analogies. The story of
Hrolf Kraki Rolf is a male given name and a surname. It originates in the Germanic languages, Germanic name ''Hrolf'', itself a contraction of ''Hrodwulf'' (Rudolph (disambiguation), Rudolf), a conjunction of the stem words ''hrod'' ("renown") + ''wulf'' ("wo ...
and his servant, the legendary bear-
shapeshifter , Mistress of the North, attacking Väinämöinen Väinämöinen () is a deity, demigod, hero and the central character in Finland, Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic ''Kalevala'' by Elias Lönnrot. Väinämöine ...

shapeshifter
Bodvar Bjarki has also been suggested as a possible parallel; he survives in ''
Hrólfs saga kraka Hrólfs saga kraka, the ''Saga of King Rolf Kraki'', is a late on the adventures , a semi-legendary king in what is now , and his , the s. The events can be dated to the late 5th century and the 6th century. A precursor text may have dated to the ...
'' and 's ''
Gesta Danorum ''Gesta Danorum'' ("Deeds of the Danes Danes ( da, danskere, ) are a North Germanic The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European ...
'', while Hrolf Kraki, one of the
Scylding Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, whi ...
s, appears as "Hrothulf" in ''Beowulf''.


International folktale sources

Friedrich Panzer (1910) wrote a thesis that the first part of ''Beowulf'' (the Grendel Story) incorporated preexisting folktale material, and that the folktale in question was of the Bear's Son Tale (''Bärensohnmärchen'') type, which has surviving examples all over the world. This tale type was later catalogued as international type 301, now formally entitled "The Three Stolen Princesses" type in Hans Uther's catalogue, although the "Bear's Son" is still used in Beowulf criticism, if not so much in folkloristic circles. However, although this folkloristic approach was seen as a step in the right direction, "The Bear's Son" tale has later been regarded by many as not a close enough parallel to be a viable choice. Later, Peter A. Jorgensen, looking for a more concise frame of reference, coined a "two-troll tradition" that covers both ''Beowulf'' and ''Grettis saga'': "a
Norse Norse is demonym for Norsemen, a medieval North Germanic ethnolinguistic group ancestral to modern Scandinavians, defined as speakers of Old Norse from about the 9th to the 13th centuries. Norse may also refer to: Culture and religion * Norse m ...
'
ecotype Image:Ecotypes of Physcomitrella patens.JPG, 224x224px, Four different ecotypes of ''Physcomitrella patens'', stored at the International Moss Stock Center In evolutionary ecology, an ecotype,Greek: ''οίκος'' = home and ''τύπος'' = type ...
' in which a hero enters a cave and kills two giants, usually of different sexes"; this has emerged as a more attractive folk tale parallel, according to a 1998 assessment by Andersson. The epic's similarity to the Irish folktale "The Hand and the Child" was noted in 1899 by
Albert S. Cook Albert Stanburrough Cook (March 6, 1853September 1, 1927) was an American philology, philologist, literary critic, and scholar of Old English. He has been called "the single most powerful American Anglo-Saxonist of the nineteenth and twentieth cen ...

Albert S. Cook
, and others even earlier. In 1914, the Swedish folklorist Carl Wilhelm von Sydow made a strong argument for parallelism with "The Hand and the Child", because the type demonstrated a "monstrous arm"
motif Motif may refer to: General concepts * Motif (chess composition), an element of a move in the consideration of its purpose * Motif (folkloristics), a recurring element that creates recognizable patterns in folklore and folk-art traditions * Motif ...
that corresponded with Beowulf's wrenching off Grendel's arm. No such correspondence could be perceived in the Bear's Son Tale or in the ''Grettis saga''. James Carney and Martin Puhvel agree with this "Hand and the Child" contextualisation. Puhvel supported the "Hand and the Child" theory through such motifs as (in Andersson's words) "the more powerful giant mother, the mysterious light in the cave, the melting of the sword in blood, the phenomenon of battle rage, swimming prowess, combat with water monsters, underwater adventures, and the bear-hug style of wrestling." In the
Mabinogion The ''Mabinogion'' () are the earliest British prose stories, and belong to the Matter of Britain The Matter of Britain is the body of medieval literature Medieval literature is a broad subject, encompassing essentially all written ...
,
Teyrnon In Welsh tradition, Teyrnon Twryf Lliant is the lord of the Kingdom of Gwent Gwent ( owl, Guent) was a medieval Wales, medieval kingdoms of Wales, Welsh kingdom, lying between the Rivers River Wye, Wye and River Usk, Usk. It existed from the en ...
discovers the otherworldly boy child
Pryderi Pryderi fab Pwyll is a prominent figure in Welsh mythology Welsh mythology consists of both folk traditions developed in Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country that is Countries of the United Kingdom, part of the United Kingdom. It is bor ...
, the principal character of the cycle, after cutting off the arm of a monstrous beast which is stealing foals from his stables. The medievalist R. Mark Scowcroft notes that the tearing off of the monster's arm without a weapon is found only in ''Beowulf'' and fifteen of the Irish variants of the tale; he identifies twelve parallels between the tale and ''Beowulf''.


Classical sources

Attempts to find
classical Classical may refer to: European antiquity *Classical antiquity, a period of history from roughly the 7th or 8th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. centered on the Mediterranean Sea *Classical architecture, architecture derived from Greek and ...

classical
or
Late Latin Late Latin ( la, Latinitas serior) is the scholarly name for the written Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, kn ...
influence or analogue in ''Beowulf'' are almost exclusively linked with
Homer Homer (; grc, Ὅμηρος , ''Hómēros'') was the presumed author of the ''Iliad'' and the ''Odyssey'', two epic poems that are the foundational works of ancient Greek literature. The ''Iliad'' is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year s ...

Homer
's ''
Odyssey The ''Odyssey'' (; grc, Ὀδύσσεια, Odýsseia, ) is one of two major ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the used in and the from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following pe ...
'' or
Virgil Publius Vergilius Maro (; traditional dates 15 October 7021 September 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil ( ) in English, was an ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 4 ...

Virgil
's ''
Aeneid The ''Aeneid'' ( ; la, Aenē̆is ) is a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the p ...
''. In 1926,
Albert S. Cook Albert Stanburrough Cook (March 6, 1853September 1, 1927) was an American philology, philologist, literary critic, and scholar of Old English. He has been called "the single most powerful American Anglo-Saxonist of the nineteenth and twentieth cen ...

Albert S. Cook
suggested a Homeric connection due to equivalent formulas, metonymies, and analogous voyages. In 1930, James A. Work supported the Homeric influence, stating that encounter between Beowulf and Unferth was parallel to the encounter between Odysseus and
Euryalus Euryalus (; grc, Εὐρύαλος, ''Eὐrúalos'' means "broad") refers to the Euryalus fortress, the main citadel of Ancient Syracuse, and to several different characters from Greek mythology and classical literature: Classical mythology *Eury ...
in Books 7–8 of the ''Odyssey,'' even to the point of both characters giving the hero the same gift of a sword upon being proven wrong in their initial assessment of the hero's prowess. This theory of Homer's influence on ''Beowulf'' remained very prevalent in the 1920s, but started to die out in the following decade when a handful of critics stated that the two works were merely "comparative literature", although Greek was known in late 7th century England:
Bede Bede ( ; ang, Bǣda , ; 672/326 May 735), also known as Saint Bede, The Venerable Bede, and Bede the Venerable ( la, Beda Venerabilis), was an English Benedictine The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict ( la, Ordo Sa ...

Bede
states that
Theodore of Tarsus Theodore of Tarsus ( gr, Θεόδωρος Ταρσοῦ; 60219 September 690). was Archbishop of Canterbury from 668 to 690. Theodore grew up in Tarsus, Mersin, Tarsus, but fled to Constantinople after the Persian Empire conquered Tarsus and oth ...
, a Greek, was appointed
Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Cat ...
in 668, and he taught Greek. Several English scholars and churchmen are described by Bede as being fluent in Greek due to being taught by him; Bede claims to be fluent in Greek himself.
Frederick Klaeber Frederick J. Klaeber (born Friedrich J. Klaeber) (1 October 1863 – 4 October 1954) was a German philologist Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary crit ...
, among others, argued for a connection between ''Beowulf'' and
Virgil Publius Vergilius Maro (; traditional dates 15 October 7021 September 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil ( ) in English, was an ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 4 ...

Virgil
near the start of the 20th century, claiming that the very act of writing a secular epic in a Germanic world represents Virgilian influence. Virgil was seen as the pinnacle of Latin literature, and Latin was the dominant literary language of England at the time, therefore making Virgilian influence highly likely. Similarly, in 1971, Alistair Campbell stated that the apologue technique used in ''Beowulf'' is so rare in epic poetry aside from Virgil that the poet who composed ''Beowulf'' could not have written the poem in such a manner without first coming across
Virgil Publius Vergilius Maro (; traditional dates 15 October 7021 September 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil ( ) in English, was an ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 4 ...

Virgil
's writings.


Biblical influences

It cannot be denied that Biblical parallels occur in the text, whether seen as a pagan work with "Christian colouring" added by scribes or as a "Christian historical novel, with selected bits of paganism deliberately laid on as 'local colour'", as Margaret E. Goldsmith did in "The Christian Theme of ''Beowulf''". ''Beowulf'' channels the
Book of Genesis The Book of Genesis,, "''Bərēšīṯ''", "In hebeginning" the first book of the Hebrew Bible The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (; Hebrew: , or ), is the Biblical canon, canonical collection of Hebrew language, Hebrew scriptures, including th ...

Book of Genesis
, the
Book of Exodus The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Torah and of the Old Testament. Starting with the deliverance of Moses by Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus), Pharaoh's daughter, it recounts the revelation at the Burning bush where he was called by Yahweh ...
, and the
Book of Daniel The Book of Daniel is a 2nd-century BCE biblical apocalypse with an ostensible 6th century BCE setting, combining a prophecy of history with an eschatology (a portrayal of end times) both cosmic in scope and political in focus. It gives "an acc ...
in its inclusion of references to the
Genesis creation narrative The Genesis creation narrative is the creation myth A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) is a symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an , , or . Symbols allow people to go beyo ...
, the story of ,
Noah In the traditions of Abrahamic religions, Noah ''Nukh''; am, ኖህ, ''Noḥ''; ar, نُوح '; grc, Νῶε ''Nôe'' () features as the tenth and last of the Antediluvian , pre-Flood Patriarchs (Bible), patriarchs. His story appears in the ...

Noah
and the
flood A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide Tides are the rise and fall of sea level Mean sea level (MSL) (often ...
, the
Devil A devil is the personification Personification occurs when a thing or abstraction is represented as a person, in literature or art, as an anthropomorphic Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') ...
,
Hell In religion Religion is a - of designated and practices, , s, s, , , , , or , that relates humanity to , , and elements; however, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion. Different religions may o ...

Hell
, and the
Last Judgment The Last Judgment, Final Judgment, Day of Reckoning, Day of Judgment, Judgment Day, Doomsday or The Day of the Lord ( he, יום הדין, Yom ha-din, ar, یوم القيامة, Yawm al-qiyāmah, Day of Resurrection or ar, یوم الدین, ...
.


Dialect

''Beowulf'' predominantly uses the
West Saxon dialect West Saxon was one of four distinct dialects of Old English. The three others were Kentish dialect (Old English), Kentish, Mercian dialect, Mercian and Northumbrian Old English, Northumbrian (the latter two were similar and are known as the Anglia ...
of Old English, like other Old English poems copied at the time. However, it also uses many other linguistic forms; this leads some scholars to believe that it has endured a long and complicated transmission through all the main dialect areas. It retains a complicated mix of Mercian, Northumbrian, Early West Saxon, Anglian, Kentish and Late West Saxon dialectical forms.


Form and metre

An Old English poem such as ''Beowulf'' is very different from modern poetry. Anglo-Saxon poets typically used
alliterative verse In meter (poetry), prosody, alliterative verse is a form of poetry, verse that uses alliteration as the principal ornamental device to help indicate the underlying Metre (poetry), metrical structure, as opposed to other devices such as rhyme. The m ...
, a form of
verse Verse may refer to: Poetry * Verse, an occasional synonym for poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetics, aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language ...

verse
in which the first half of the line (the a-verse) is linked to the second half (the b-verse) through similarity in initial sound. In addition, the two halves are divided by a
caesura 100px, An example of a caesura in modern western music notation. A caesura (, . caesuras or caesurae; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was orig ...
: " (l. 4). This verse form maps stressed and unstressed syllables onto abstract entities known as metrical positions. There is no fixed number of beats per line: the first one cited has three () whereas the second has two (). The poet had a choice of formulae to assist in fulfilling the alliteration scheme. These were memorised phrases that conveyed a general and commonly-occurring meaning that fitted neatly into a half-line of the chanted poem. Examples are line 8's ("waxed under welkin", i.e. "he grew up under the heavens"), line 11's ("pay tribute"), line 13's ("young in the yards", i.e. "young in the courts"), and line 14's ("as a comfort to his people").
Kenning A kenning (Modern Icelandic Icelandic (; is, íslenska, link=no ) is a North Germanic language spoken by about 314,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in Iceland where it is the national language. It is most closely related to Faroe ...
s are a significant technique in ''Beowulf''. They are evocative poetic descriptions of everyday things, often created to fill the alliterative requirements of the metre. For example, a poet might call the sea the "swan's riding"; a king might be called a "ring-giver." The poem contains many kennings, and the device is typical of much of classic poetry in Old English, which is heavily formulaic. The poem, too, makes extensive use of
elided In linguistics, an elision or deletion is broadly defined as the omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase. However, it is also used to refer more narrowly to cases where two words are r ...
metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of ...
s.


Interpretation and criticism

The history of modern ''Beowulf'' criticism is often said to begin with Tolkien, author and Merton Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the
University of Oxford The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the List of oldest universit ...
, who in his 1936 lecture to the
British Academy The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national academy#REDIRECT National academy A national academy is an organizational body, usually operating with state financial support and approval, that co-ordinates scholarly research Res ...
criticised his contemporaries' excessive interest in its historical implications. He noted in '' Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics'' that as a result the poem's literary value had been largely overlooked, and argued that the poem "is in fact so interesting as poetry, in places poetry so powerful, that this quite overshadows the historical content..." Tolkien argued that the poem is not an epic; that, while no conventional term exactly fits, the nearest would be
elegy In English literature, an elegy is a poem of serious reflection, usually a lament for the dead. However, according to ''The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy'', "for all of its pervasiveness ... the 'elegy' remains remarkably ill defined: sometimes us ...
; and that its focus is the concluding
dirge A dirge is a somber song A song is a musical composition Musical composition can refer to an piece or work of , either or , the of a musical piece or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create n ...

dirge
.


Paganism and Christianity

In historical terms, the poem's characters were Norse religion, Norse pagans (the historical events of the poem took place before the Christianization of Scandinavia, Christianisation of Scandinavia), yet the poem was recorded by Christian Anglo-Saxons who had mostly converted from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism around the 7th century – both Anglo-Saxon paganism and Norse paganism share a common origin as both are forms of Germanic paganism. ''Beowulf'' thus depicts a Germanic peoples, Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of paramount importance. In terms of the relationship between characters in ''Beowulf'' to God, one might recall the substantial amount of paganism that is present throughout the work. Literary critics such as Fred C. Robinson argue that the ''Beowulf'' poet tries to send a message to readers during the Anglo-Saxon time period regarding the state of Christianity in their own time. Robinson argues that the intensified religious aspects of the Anglo-Saxon period inherently shape the way in which the poet alludes to paganism as presented in ''Beowulf''. The poet calls on Anglo-Saxon readers to recognize the imperfect aspects of their supposed Christian lifestyles. In other words, the poet is referencing their "Anglo-Saxon Heathenism." In terms of the characters of the epic itself, Robinson argues that readers are "impressed" by the courageous acts of Beowulf and the speeches of Hrothgar. But one is ultimately left to feel sorry for both men as they are fully detached from supposed "Christian truth". The relationship between the characters of ''Beowulf'', and the overall message of the poet, regarding their relationship with God is debated among readers and literary critics alike. Richard North argues that the ''Beowulf'' poet interpreted "Danish myths in Christian form" (as the poem would have served as a form of entertainment for a Christian audience), and states: "As yet we are no closer to finding out why the first audience of ''Beowulf'' liked to hear stories about people routinely classified as damned. This question is pressing, given... that Anglo-Saxons saw the
Danes Danes ( da, danskere, ) are a North Germanic peoples, North Germanic ethnic group native to Denmark and a modern nation identified with the country of Denmark. This connection may be ancestral, legal, historical, or cultural. Danes generally re ...
as 's' rather than as foreigners." Donaldson wrote that "the poet who put the materials into their present form was a Christian and ... poem reflects a Christian tradition". Other scholars disagree as to whether ''Beowulf'' is a Christian work set in a Germanic pagan context. The question suggests that the conversion from the Germanic pagan beliefs to Christian ones was a prolonged and gradual process over several centuries, and it remains unclear the ultimate nature of the poem's message in respect to religious belief at the time it was written. Robert F. Yeager describes the basis for these questions: Ursula Schaefer's view is that the poem was created, and is interpretable, within both pagan and Christian horizons. Schaefer's concept of "vocality" offers neither a compromise nor a synthesis of the views which see the poem as on the one hand Germanic, pagan, and oral and on the other Latin-derived, Christian, and literate, but, as stated by Monika Otter: "a 'tertium quid', a modality that participates in both oral and literate culture yet also has a logic and aesthetic of its own."


Politics and warfare

Stanley B. Greenfield has suggested that references to the human body throughout ''Beowulf'' emphasise the relative position of Thegn, thanes to their lord. He argues that the term "shoulder-companion" could refer to both a physical arm as well as a thane (Aeschere) who was very valuable to his lord (Hrothgar). With Aeschere's death, Hrothgar turns to Beowulf as his new "arm." Greenfield argues the foot is used for the opposite effect, only appearing four times in the poem. It is used in conjunction with
Unferð " Beowulf replies haughtily to Hunferth" (1910) by John Henry F. Bacon In the Old English epic poem ''Beowulf'', Unferth or Hunferth is a thegn (a retainer, servant) of the Denmark, Danish lord Hrothgar. His name appears four times in the poem (a ...
(a man described by Beowulf as weak, traitorous, and cowardly). Greenfield notes that Unferð is described as "at the king's feet" (line 499). Unferð is a member of the foot troops, who, throughout the story, do nothing and "generally serve as backdrops for more heroic action." Daniel Podgorski has argued that the work is best understood as an examination of inter-generational vengeance-based conflict, or feuding. In this context, the poem operates as an indictment of feuding conflicts as a function of its conspicuous, circuitous, and lengthy depiction of the Geatish-Swedish wars—coming into contrast with the poem's depiction of the protagonist Beowulf as being disassociated from the ongoing feuds in every way.


See also

* List of Beowulf characters, List of ''Beowulf'' characters * On Translating ''Beowulf'' * Sutton Hoo helmet#Beowulf, Sutton Hoo helmet § ''Beowulf'' * ''Heliand'', a Germanic epic and the largest known work of written Old Saxon


References


Notes


Citations


Sources

* * * * * * * * * * Jaillant, Lise
"A Fine Old Tale of Adventure: Beowulf Told to the Children of the English Race, 1898–1908." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 38.4 (2013): 399–419
* * * * * * * * , an
II. Sigfrid
* * * * * * * *


Further reading

The secondary literature on ''Beowulf'' is immense. The following is a selection. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links


Full digital facsimile of the manuscript on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website


edited by Kevin Kiernan, 4th online edition (University of Kentucky/The British Library, 2015)
''Beowulf'' manuscript in The British Library's Online Gallery, with short summary and podcast

Annotated List of ''Beowulf'' Translations: The List – Arizonal Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies


(digitised from Elliott van Kirk Dobbie (ed.), ''Beowulf and Judith'', Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, 4 (New York, 1953))
''Beowulf'' introduction
Article introducing various translations and adaptations of ''Beowulf'' *
Beowulf
' translated by John Lesslie Hall at Standard Ebooks *
The tale of Beowulf (Sel.3.231)
a digital edition of the proof-sheets with manuscript notes and corrections by
William Morris William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of tradit ...

William Morris
in Cambridge Digital Library {{authority control Beowulf, 9th-century books Denmark in fiction Poems adapted into films Sweden in fiction Germanic heroic legends