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Beowulf The Fight at Finnsburh (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 9 Oct 2008
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Beowulf is the longest and finest literary work to have come down to us from Anglo-Saxon times, and one of the world's greatest epic poems. Set in the half-legendary, half historical Scandinavian past, it tells the story of the hero Beowulf, who comes to the aid of the Danish king Hrothgar by killing first the terrifying, demonic monster Grendel, and then Grendel's infuriated and vengeful mother. A lifetime later, Beowulf's own kingdom, Geatland, is threatened by a fiery dragon; Beowulf heroically takes on this challenge, but himself dies killing the dragon. The poem celebrates the virtues of the heroic life, but Hrothgar and Beowulf are beacons of wisdom and courage in a dark world of feuds, violence and uncertainty, and Beowulf's selfless heroism is set against a background of ruthless power struggles, fratricide and tyranny. This acclaimed translation is complemented by a critical introduction and substantial editorial apparatus. 'The poem has at last found its translator ...supremely well done' Charles Causley
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Beowulf is one of those Medieval works of literature that many have heard about but few have read. However, it's worth reading, if only to experience a story so different from modern sensibilities. The poem extols Beowulf's physical courage and bravery against monsters and dragons. It's an odd mix of early Christian and warrior ethos. Beowulf is not a modern hero. There's not much to recommend him to modern readers - he's boastful, relies on brawn not brains, and his search for glory ends up putting his kingdom at risk. Still, it's fascinating to read this type of story and realize how far away it is from our own times.
Because this is a translation of an Anglo-Saxon poem, it's worth saying a word about the text itself. It's readable, but isn't smooth reading for the uninitiated. I'd say this - if you don't like reading English-language poetry, you probably won't enjoy reading this poem. If you do make the effort, I'd recommend really making the effort. Go slow and make sure you understand the story. Don't skip over a few lines thinking they're not as relevant.