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Beowulf: Verse Translation (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 27 Feb 2003
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From the Inside Flap
Beowulf is the most important Old English poem and perhaps the most significant single survival from the Anglo-Saxon period.
Though its composition was completed in England in the eighth century, the poem is set in the heroic societies of a fifth-century Scandinavia. Against this background of feuding and feasting, the hero Beowulf kills Grendel and Grendel's mother, but in killing the Dragon is himself killed.
We have here something more than merely a heroic poem of historical interest: Beowulf has a truly epic quality and scope, and this verse translation successfully communicates the poem's artistry and eloquence. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
One of the most universally studied of the English classics, Beowulf is considered the finest heroic poem in Old English. Written ten centuries ago, it celebrates the character and exploits of Beowulf, a young nobleman of the Geats, a people of southern Sweden.
Beowulf first rescues the royal house of Denmark from two marauding monsters, then returns to rule his people for 50 years, ultimately losing his life in a battle to defend the Geats from a dragon's rampage. The poem combines mythical elements, Christian and pagan sensibilities, and actual historical figures and events in a narrative that ranges from vivid descriptions of fierce fighting and detailed portrayals of court life to earnest considerations of social and moral dilemmas. Originally written in Old English verse, it is presented here in an authoritative prose translation by R.K. Gordon.See all Product description
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Beowulf is of course the legendary Old English epic written probably over a thousand years ago. It is a Scandic tale rather than an English one, the action taking place in the lands of various Scandic and Germanic factions. What makes it special is its existence as such a great early Old English work. What makes it epic is that Beowulf tells a series of outstanding adventures captured in the literary style of the Germanic peoples who populated northern Europe including Eastern Britain.
There are various translations of Beowulf. This translation makes a very interesting judgement call. It retains a lot of the Germanic sentence structure rather than aiming for a more readable style to modern English users. This makes for a tough read at times in English but a more natural fit in terms of sub-clause use and verb positioning for those familiar with German and its most closely related languages. After a while the more complex composition becomes increasingly readable to the point where a reader can find ease in the word order patterns.
There are occasional points to criticise in the translation. In particular the translation of the word Wyrd. It is hard to skip over the translation of Wyrd as Weird because it makes no sense in modern English. Fate would have been a better translation. It is particularly difficult to skip over when used around the adventure with the dragon give the proximity of Old English Wyrm and Wyrd. Why one has the modern English translation and not the other is hard to follow.
Still, the translation by Michael Alexander is rich and evocative. It is hard to describe the times and places of Beowulf but the Epics edition does a decent enough job.
The story itself is of course outstanding. It is the 14th book in the Penguin Epics collection and comes much later than some of the earlier works in the series. The later nature makes it a much more advanced work than those which have come before except perhaps Cupid & Psyche. What makes it so distinct is the crossover of symbolism, heroic deed, and societal structure. The bonds between people are much more organic than in more ancient literature.
It helps that Beowulf is not just fiction but the elements that may be fictitious are still gripping. The battles against Grendel is surprisingly short, Beowulf defeating Grendel in their first combat. Grendel's mother offers another foe for Beowulf but he is able to defeat both of them. He does so in different circumstances. The battle with Grendel taking place in the familiar surroundings of a great hall. The battle with Grendel's mother however is more fantastic. This battle is much more of an adventure into legend with the fight itself taking place underwater, where Beowulf would in reality have stood no chance.
That there is a distinction between a more real environment for the battle with Grendel and a fabulous one in combat with Grendel's mother could suggest slightly different traditions. Was Grendel real?
The possibility of reality exists because of the non-fiction elements of the work. The battles against Frisians and the Battle on the Ice being parts of the sequence of wars in northern Europe.
That Beowulf himself is a Geat is fascinating. It is thrilling to have a work of this quality preserve a tale from a defeated people. As a people now culturally assimilated into Swedes, it is really exciting to hear their voice from an elder time.
Beowulf's ultimate demise comes in battle with a dragon. His men are not brave enough to take on the great wyrm but Beowulf and the dragon are each other's match. It is a terrific fight and a great way for a hero to go.
Beowulf's Christian nature is a little odd. He initially is presented as a Christian hero which does not fit with the Christianisation of the region. There is only limited reference to Christianity as the work progresses. It seems as though the religious element was a later addition. It certainly is not enough of an addition to erode the references to traditional Scandic society and culture.
The influence of this great work on more modern literature is entirely obvious. Tolkien lifted not just ideas and themes from Beowulf even character names. The most famous author in the fantasy genre turns out to have written tales that could almost be sequels to this old epic.
The Penguin Epics edition does not contain any additional information other than the work itself. It fits within the Penguin Epics Collection. The Penguin Classics version apparently contains a bit more. This absence does no real harm to the work at all for those familiar with north European mythology or history, or indeed for those able to do a bit of follow-up research themselves.
Beowulf is a must read for everyone. Which edition to choose is a matter of choice. This offering was a good choice for this reader.
It is poetic. It has readability (not easy to obtain with a poem such as Beowulf). Also if you're buying you need an edition with a good introduction and a 'person' key at the end (or somewhere in the book).
The 'monster' bits are quite easy to read but the different names and clans mentioned get a bit confusing when talking about people and not Grendel, his mother or the Worm and in many ways the digressions of the poem are at the core of what it's about so whichever translation you use get an edition with (and use) the reading aids mentioned above.
Especially interesting in this poem is the role of Grendel's mother, never named other than by her relationship to Grendel himself, who takes revenge - always a problematically gendered act - upon herself. Given the narrative's erasure of a father for Grendel, the role of maternity is thus foregrounded in this poem in fascinating ways.
This isn't a long poem as epics go, only 3,200 lines, so about the length of four books of the Aeneid. This is an old translation (1973) which has been lightly revised, and which captures some of the grave solemnity and grandeur of the original. This edition also contains a brief introduction and some useful notes. So this isn't a scholarly edition but it a useful gloss for anyone struggling with Old English, or the general reader wanting to experience this marvellous poem.
I thought this was fixed and disregarded a previously bad review on the same Kindle file. Mistake!
I'll try and get a refund or a fixed version.
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