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The Only Copy of “Beowulf,” Might Have Disappeared into the Mists of History

July 4, 2018 by Jack Dziamba. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday

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“Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norm


an Conquest. More than 3,000 lines long, Beowulf relates the exploits of its eponymous hero, and his successive battles with a monster named Grendel, with Grendel’s revengeful mother, and with a dragon which was guarding a hoard of treasure.” The British Library.


The New Media now allows us not only to see the original manuscript of Beowulf, but also to hear it read aloud.  Simple, but profound.

     The Beowulf  Manuscript

“Though we’ve come to think of it as an essential work of English literature, Beowulf might have disappeared into the mists of history had not the only manuscript of the poem survived “more or less by chance.”

“The ‘unique copy,’ writes Seamus Heaney  ‘(now in the British Library) barely survived a fire in the eighteenth century and was then transcribed and titled, retranscribed and edited, translated and adapted, interpreted and taught, until it has become an acknowledged classic.'” Open Culture.


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The British Library’s digitization of that sole manuscript allows us to peel back the layers of canonization and see how the poem first entered a literary tradition. Originally ‘passed down orally over many generations, and modified by each successive bard,” writes the British Library, Beowulf took this fixed form when ‘the existing copy was made at an unknown location in Anglo-Saxon England.”

    Beowulf Read Aloud

“Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s 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. You can hear Heaney read his translation of Beowulf online.  The remainder of the reading appears on YouTube — listen to Part 1 and Part 2. ”  Open Culture.




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