1. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Let us talk about Beowulf

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Lemex, May 25, 2014.

    Ok, I've been thinking about this poem a lot, so I thought I'd test the waters here and see if anyone wants to talk about this amazing poem. Who here knows it, or has read it? What did you think of it? And if you read it in translation, which translation was it?

    My first encounter with this poem was just last year with the Seamus Heaney translation, but I've since read another translation, and the original, Angle-Saxon text. Personally I think this poem is wonderful.

    Also, here's an article for everyone, to be honest, this article inspired this thread: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304547704579561763281079756?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304547704579561763281079756.html
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2014
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I read the Chickering translation. The edition I read was a dual-language book, and I highly recommend reading it this way so you can compare the translation to the original without having to flip through several books.

    Oh, and please don't watch any of the movies. They all suck.
     
  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I would like to read it someday.
    I never looked for it but maybe I will for next I look for a book.
    That along with any other sagas I can find.
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've never seen any of the films of Beowulf, and I've never really wanted to. But I'm curious to see just how bad they are now. :p
     
  5. Xueqin-II
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    Xueqin-II Member

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    I am reading it currently, and I must say that it is a joy. I was once told to never, ever read it, as it was "only famous for being old," but this was by the same person who made a demon of Joyce for writing Dubliners. Quite happy I did not take mind from him!
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I haven't seen the newest film (the one from 2007), but I've seen the one from 1999 (Beowulf) and the one from 2005 (called Beowulf and Grendel). There was also another adaptation the Syfy Channel did (called Grendel). In general, one should stay away from Syfy Channel movies; they're the ones responsible for making movies like Sharknado.
     
  7. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    That doesn't sound like the opinions of someone whose opinions I'd take very highly! Dubliners ... sure not all of the stories are very memorable, but whoever does not like 'The Dead' is no friend of mine.

    Beowulf is a poem that whenever I read it I notice something new and different, and the scholarship on the poem is always worth reading. The Tolkien essay 'Monsters and Critics' is of course an essential read for everyone interested in this poem academically, but there are two essays I hold higher than all others: Fred C Robinson's 'The Tomb of Beowulf', and John Leyerle's 'The Interlace Structure Beowulf'. Trust me on this, everyone, if you can get your hands on these essays, get them!
     
  8. Xueqin-II
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    Xueqin-II Member

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    Surely, when I finish Beowulf I will keep these writings posted. I have needed some good essays to come my way.
     
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  9. Snoopingaround
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    Snoopingaround Banned

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    I am fascinated by the character of Beowulf. He pretty much represents the archetype of the Hero in Western culture I think, albeit with more of a Germanic bent. He was a precursor for the so-called "strong, silent types". I find modern interpretations very interesting to look at. I have even read a graphic novel of the Beowulf story, which was pretty good (I can't recall the authors right now). One of my favorite characters.
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Well, it's very apt he has a Germanic bent. He was a hero and heroic archetype for the Angle-Saxon community in Britain - and the Saxons came from what is now north west Germany, Angles came from Denmark. He was a hero of the past to provide a heroic inspiration for the future, with a great amount of pathos, with when he faces the dragon.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, my gosh. I read a large excerpt from it as a child. It was from my dad's wonderful collection of book classics that were presented for young people (not at all dumbed-down, but they were just excerpts.) The series was a cracker, and was published for many years, but the edition we owned was the one printed in 1909 - the series was called Journeys Through Bookland. (It set me on the path to appreciating great literature, that's for certain. What a resource! I think there were about 10-12 books in the set, and they were PACKED with great stuff.)

    I couldn't tell you who the translator of Beowulf was, but it was written in Victorian-era English, and set in poetry form. It contained the episode where Beowulf killed Grendel and then went after Grendel's mother. (Included a couple of illustrations ...and I can assure you, Grendel's mother did NOT look the least like Angelina Jolie!) I found the story fascinating, but then I would. I've always been attracted to mythology and stories of this nature. I never read the 'grownup' version, but if you could recommend a translation, @Lemex, I would love to.

    Strange that we didn't get any Beowulf in any of our English classes. But maybe that's because I went to high school and university in the USA. We got lots of English literature—including Chaucer and Shakespeare–but not that one.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2014
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Howard D. Chickering is one of the better translations I've encountered. There is the Seamus Heaney translation that is functional, and works as a good introduction to the poem, but it's at times horribly inaccurate. A translation by J.R.R. Tolkien has, much to my surprise, just been published. I don't know what it's like, I've not read it all myself - I've read the first few lines and it seems ok. Actually, the one in the Penguin Classics isn't bad either, the actor Julian Glover uses it when he recites the poem live at Anglo-Saxon reenactment days. I've been to one here in Northumberland, it was amazing!

    If you are feeling brave, there is either the books Beowulf: The Glossed Text, or Beowulf: A Student Edition. Both books give you the original Angle-Saxon text, and gives you a glossary of each word and copious notes to help you read the poem directly from the original Old English, but be warned: you do have to interpret and translate the entire poem yourself doing this.

    I suggest getting the Seamus Heaney translation in the Norton Critical Edition and read it, and the essays, notes and extras that that fabulous edition provides. But keep in mind that it's not a fantastic Beowulf itself - use only it as a point of reference. Quite frankly, the essays and quotes from the Norse Sagas in that edition are more valuable than the translation itself. Then depending on how you feel, I'd suggest getting a good translation like the Chickering, or reading the original with one of those glossed books I mentioned above.

    For a comparison, here is the Chickering first few lines:

    The Heaney version is thus:

    The one found in the Penguin Classics, I can't remember off the top of my head who did it, starts like this:

    All of these are the same, first three lines of Beowulf, which follows on from the Classical tradition of opening an Epic with an 'argument' stanza. This is the first indication that this is a poem written down by a Christian, but not necessarily written by a Christian. Beowulf the story might be far older than the presumed date of this poem's composition. Norse poems, and other Viking mythological and heroic poems were I think entirely narrative poems, that did not feel the need to state it's purpose or call on the muses for support.

    *The | symbols I am using to indicate a break in the sentence, in the same line. Angle-Saxon poetry was distinctive of having a short pause for the rhapsodes to breathe in between lines. Though most Saxon poetry, Beowulf included, is written in what looks like prose - Angle-Saxon readers would come to the texts with inbuilt knowledge of how to read it as poetry.

    So a page that looks like this:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Beowulf_Cotton_MS_Vitellius_A_XV_f._132r.jpg

    Would be read like this:

    http://www.paddletrips.net/beowulf/html/beorefs/grendel-chic.jpg

    At the top of that first image you can see the first stanza I have been quoting from, in different translations. In the Old English it reads:

    The next part of this is a sort of genealogy in poetic form of the royal line of Denmark, it starts with Shield Sheafson, who was as a child found adrift at sea but eventually became a great warrior and king. This is a point the Heaney version gets very very wrong to be honest, and why I cannot really recommend just it with a good conscience. The poem discribes how he founded a line that goes Himself - Beo (in the manuscript it is written 'Beowulf' but this is almost certainly an error on the copyist's part, whoever it was) - Halfdane - and then Hrothgar, under whose rule the monster Grendel starts attacking and the action of Beowulf takes place.

    The Cotton manuscript that Beowulf is found in is also of interest, because it's a book of Angle-Saxon monster stories, and Old English translations of Christian biblical texts.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2014
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I second the Chickering translation. The edition I read was dual language, so you had the original on the left and the translation on the right. I've heard from an English professor that the Heaney translation is bad and not worth getting. So basically I agree with everything Lemex wrote.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Lemex - Well, I put the Seamus Heaney version from Norton in my Amazon basket and was about to push the 'head for checkout button', then my eye got caught by the Seamus Heaney ILLUSTRATED edition. I couldn't resist. The illustrations mainly consist of photos of the places the legend supposedly took place, and many photos of artifacts from that time, but this really helps me visualise setting. There appears to be a lot of supplementary information involving the history of the legend and the place as well. This is right up my alley. I love literature, but I also LOVE history, especially of northern Europe. And I'm one quarter Danish (and one half English) ...how can I turn aside from all this?

    Furthermore, I think I'm more interested in Heaney's telling of the tale. He's a reknown storyteller, and one whom I respect. I think he may have deviated from the original text slightly more than Chickering did, but just from the few lines I read, I think the story is vibrant, the way he tells it.

    Oh boy. Thanks so much for the kick up the backside. This is a poem I've always meant to read, and it looks like a cracking edition of it as well. So maybe I can join in this conversation in a few weeks' time???

    Slightly off topic ...I don't know how you are with Chaucer, but the best Chaucer translation I EVER read was a paperback I bought while I was studying it at University. And danged if I can remember the name of the translator ...and that book is long gone. What set it apart from all other translations was that it was a literal translation of every word Chaucer wrote - but it did not attempt to recreate the poetry. It was told in prose form. It was remarkably easy to follow. Whan that Aprille, with his shoures swete, got translated as " When that April, with his showers sweet..." It made it so easy to study the actual words Chaucer wrote without having to dive for the glossary with every line. I would love to get that copy again. Is this translation something you've run across at all? You can send me a PM, if you can think of it ...so as not to clog up this thread?
     
  15. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Sure thing, the Heaney version is a good entry Beowulf, despite it's numerous (and I think chronic) flaws, it's got the right feel - and some of the passages are great. Also, a lot of the words in the Heaney version are well picked too, apparently using updated words derived from the Angle-Saxon route words actually found in the original poem itself. Such as line 14:

    I think I remember reading in the introduction that Heaney claims this word is derived from the Angle-Saxon word dreogan, which is used here in the original. If this is true, it's quite clever, but etymology is not my field.

    Here is the second stanza of the Heaney translation, and it's the start of the 80 (there about) line genealogy of the Danish kings, dealing with Shield:
    Mead-benches, here in that second line is a stand in for the place mead-benches are: the mead hall, the seat of power in Norse/Viking society. It was the government, the pub, and the town hall all at the same time. 'Whale-road' is a stand in for the sea, which I think is a beautiful image. This is the thing about Beowulf, a lot of things are described in metaphors and euphemisms. Heaney's translation is not worthless, it works for what Heaney is trying to do, but it's not completely accurate - I think what you said is quite right, he retold the story in his own deviated way.

    The whole mythology around this poem, the whole era of Northern European poetry, is still something I'm to be honest quite new to. I love history too, though, so things like Beowulf, and the Elder Edda is something I just couldn't resist looking into. I'm glad I did, because this poetry is wonderful. :)

    About Chaucer, I have read Chaucer and do like him. I'll send you a PM.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Noticed a bad typo in this last post: the genealogy section Beowulf opens with, with the quoted stanza from the Heaney above, covers 80 lines of the near 3200 lines of the poem. Sorry, I didn't spot that I missed the word 'line' out. Sorry.
     
  17. jannert
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    Hey, there is certainly a historical novel lurking in there! Especially the very last bit ...that was one good king. It would be great to explore that idea, how somebody who wrecks mead benches and rampages around can be thought of as a 'good king.' Obviously lots of personality and culture hiding behind those words.
     
  18. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    There is an entire era in those words, an era that ended over 1,000 years ago. Sheild is a legendary Danish king, he turns up in some of the Sagas under the name 'Skjöldr' (I took that from Wikipedia). But most of all, it's an example of why and how I find Epic Poetry so endlessly fascinating: in Viking/Norse culture strength, victory, power, and generosity to your own kind were respected. Sheild dominated southern Scandinavia during his day - he was not a man you messed with. Today he would be condemned as a warlord, as someone obsessed with power, but these things were virtues back then. The poem shows us this and makes no apologies for it, that world was what it was. It's an entirely different culture, but somehow at the same time it is a culture we know.

    Actually that's wrong, it IS our culture. Beowulf is in Old English, it is one of the English language's earliest voices.

    This was an age of ice, iron, gods, giants, elves, dragons, longships and long swords. The glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome was alien to the society found in Beowulf.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2014
  19. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Oh, Beowulf! I loved reading that epic poem, though I always had trouble with the rhythm of the lines having just read them like normal prose.

    The culture behind this epic poem is very interesting, indeed. It valued honor, glory, kinship. It had its own way of handling crime and punishment that was different from the old Greco-Roman ways. Those two civilizations were long gone by the time the society as seen in Beowulf came around. From my limited understanding, wasn't it based off of an actual king who lived at the time? I've heard that they used to take mighty kings they so respected and compose epics based on what they've done, with bits of exaggeration here and there for effect.
     
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    It's very likely the story of Beowulf was based on a real person. His tribe, the Geats were certainly real and they were destoried by the Sweds, as the end of the poem mournfully tells us. Also, there is the very interesting feature that Beowulf himself has two funerals - this might mean that he was actually deified by the Geats, I think it is, and this was in no way uncommon at all in pretty much every pagan society.
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fantastic poem. I thought they made everyone read it in high school.


    As far as the movies, may I suggest the 1999 version, if only for Grendel's Mother, whom I would gladly produce more little Grendels with.
     
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  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've been meaning to post this video for weeks for all who are going to be interested in it. It's the British historian Michael Wood talking about Beowulf. It gives a great amount of detail on the poem, the world, and it's a very enthusiastic short film. It also shows sections of Julian Glover's one man performance of the poem.

    Hope everyone who reads this enjoys it:

     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    By the way, I forgot to mention, my Seamus Heaney version of Beowulf has arrived. It's on the back burner for the moment, as I've got other projects I'm working on. But it's there, and looks great—love all the archaeological artifacts that are illustrated. It's more a winter book though, isn't it? I think I'll save it for when the nights have drawn in a bit more.
     
  24. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    @jannert, the video I linked interviews Seamus Heaney about his translation, you mind find those sections of particular interest. Interesting how you call it a winter book, I do the same with some things. I think, yeah, Beowulf does have a rather moody atmosphere, you are not wrong.
     
  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Would it spoil things if I watched this video before reading the book?
     

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