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Translations of Beowulf

Beowulf is one of the oldest epic poems extant in an English language. In the ancient tradition, the poems were meant to be spoken aloud and heard by an audience of tribe members. A system of memory-helpers was developed to help the Scop to remember thousands of lines of poetry. A very rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables was developed. In the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition, the ends of the lines did not have to rhyme. The poetic tradition relied on the separation in the middle of the line. If the last word in the first part of the line began with a consonant, the first word of the second part of the line should have begun with the same consonant sound. If the last word in the first part of the line began with a vowel sound, the first word in the second part of the line should have begun with any vowel sound. Because the spelling of words and the structure of sentences have changed since then, those rules are not strictly followed in modern translations. Alliteration, the repetition of the initial sound of the word, was developed to a high level in both assonance and consonance at that time. There is also much boasting, bragging, aggressive speech, and celebration of the warrior's spirit. Much like some modern poetic styles. It was called, “Flyting.” There is an interesting article in Wikipedia about Flyting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flyting.

There is also much reference to the Christian God and religious terminology in the 3,170 lines of this edition. How can this be in an ancient pagan epic poem? In more ancient pagan times the tales were spoken in the oral tradition and not written down. The literary devices helped the Scop to remember thousands of lines during the telling before the hearth-fire. Each Scop, teller of the Epic, was free to change or embellish the story as they wished. It was later after the conversion of the tribes to Christianity that the monks brought writing. It should be remembered that Beowulf was written down by Christian authors, and so they added their own embellishments as the ancient Scop were free to do in their own performances. For the same reason the original creators of the Epic are not known and are listed as, "Anonymous."




This is a mirror of the outstanding Beowulf site BeowulfTranslations.net.

BeowulfTranslations.net Mirror





These editions of the Beowulf translations have half-line by syllable separations or poetic line breaks by Wesley Tilson.

Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Tradition, by Morris and Wyatt

Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Tradition, by J. Lesslie Hall

Beowulf In The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Tradition, by Francis B. Gummere

Beowulf In The Poetic Tradition, by Kirtlan






Original translations of Beowulf

Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem, Translated by Lesslie Hall

Beowulf: by Anonymous, Translated by Gummere:

The Story of Beowulf, Translated by Kirtlan

The Tale of Beowulf: by Anonymous, Translated by Morris and Wyatt





From The Translations of Beowulf, by Chauncey Brewster Tinker:

Of Morris and White's Translation:

Nature of the Translation.

The translation of Beowulf is written in extremely archaic language. An imitative measure of four principal stresses is used. Wherever possible, the Old English syntax has been preserved (see line 1242); the word-order of the original is retained. The archaic language is wrought of several different kinds of words. In the first place, there is the ‘legitimate archaism,’ such as ‘mickle,’ ‘burg,’ ‘bairn’; there are forms which are more closely associated with the translation of Old English, such as ‘middle-garth,’ ‘ring-stem.’ There are modern words used with the old signification, such as ‘kindly’ (in the sense ‘of the same kind’), ‘won war’ (in the sense ‘wage war’), ‘fret’ (in the sense ‘eat’). Finally, there are forms which are literally translated from Old English: ‘the sight seen once only’ from ansȳn, face, 251; ‘spearman’ from garsecg, ocean (see extract), ‘gift-scat’ from gif-sceatt, gift of money, 107 378; ‘the Maker’s own making’ from metod-sceaft, doom, 1180. Romance words are excluded whenever possible. A glossary of ‘some words not commonly used now’ is included in the book, but none of the words cited above, save ‘burg,’ is found in it.



Of J. L. Hall’S Translation:

Nature of the Translation.

The translation is in imitative measures and in archaic style.
‘The effort has been made to give a decided flavor of archaism to the translation. All words not in keeping with the spirit of the poem have been avoided. Again, though many archaic words have been used, there are none, it is believed, which are not found in standard modern poetry. . . .
‘The measure used in the present translation is believed to be as near a reproduction of the original as modern English affords. . . . The four stresses of the Anglo-Saxon verse are retained, and as much thesis and anacrusis is allowed as is consistent with a regular cadence. Alliteration has been used to a large extent; but it was thought that modern ears would hardly tolerate it in every line. End-rhyme has been used occasionally; internal rhyme, sporadically. . . .
‘What Gummere calls the “rime-giver” has been studiously kept; viz., the first accented syllable in the second half-verse always carries the alliteration; and the last accented syllable alliterates only sporadically. . . .
‘No two accented syllables have been brought together, except occasionally after a cæsural pause. . . . Or, scientifically speaking, Sievers’s C type has been avoided as not consonant with the plan of translation.’ —Preface, viii, ix.





Study Tools and Sources for Beowulf



Beowulf: story summary by Morris and Wyatt

Beowulf: story summary by Lesslie Hall

Beowulf: story introduction by Kirtlan

Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem with a Discussion of the Stories of Offa and Finn

The Relation of the Hrolfs Saga Kraka and the Bjarkarimur to Beowulf, by Oscar Ludvig Olson

Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon Text

The Translations of Beowulf as of 1903

A Middle English Vocabulary, edited by J R R Tolkien

An Extremely Scholarly Site About Beowulf.

Massive, extensive source on all things Beowulf. Includes side-by-side Old English and Modern English texts.

Side-by-side Old English and Modern English texts of Beowulf.

Beowulf flash-cards. An excellent study aid.

A Collection of Links to Sources on the Web About Beowulf.

Side by Side Presentation of the Original Text with the Modern Translation: Fantastic!

Beowulf: poem-summary at www.cliffsnotes.com - An excellent source for background and summaries.

Wikipedia Summary of the Literary Device Called Kenning

Wikipedia Summary of Beowulf

Wikipedia Summary of Flyting: a contest consisting of the exchange of insults, often conducted in verse, between two parties.





Going to Youtube and searching for "Beowulf" can bring up useful videos.

Beowulf and the Anglo Saxons educational video

Michael Wood - In search of Beowulf

A lighthearted explanation of Beowulf. You have to see this one: only ten minutes.

"Published on Apr 13, 2012 Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney's new translation of Beowulf comes to life in this gripping audio. Heaney's performance reminds us that Beowulf, written near the turn of another millennium, was intended to be heard not read."
Part 1 of 2: 1 hour 7 minutes
Part 2 of 2: 1 hour 7 minutes





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