Beowulf: Gummere Foreword


BEOWULF: In The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Tradition.

Public domain

Original author Anonymous.
Translated by Francis B. Gummere.

Based on The Internet Wiretap Edition from The Harvard Classics, Volume 49. Copyright, 1910 by P.F. Collier & Son.
Source for public domain download available:
This text is in the public domain, released July 1993.

Prepared by Robin Katsuya-Corbet from scanner output provided by Internet Wiretap.
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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:

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.”

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