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Beowulf: An Online Exercise

This page is still under construction. It was last updated April 4, 2001.

To get a sense of the differences between modern textbooks and medieval manuscripts,, let's start by reading my own translation of Beowulf (below). Afterwards, we can contrast that with the original medieval text, and then we'll look at an editorial transcription of that text in Anglo-Saxon.

Modern English Translation: Lines 1-19 of Beowulf

Listen! We have heard
Of the glory of the Spear-Danes in days of yore, the People-Kings,
How the noble-born performed courageous deeds.
Often Shield Sheafson took the mead-benches
From enemy bands, from many races;
He terrified warriors! Even though he was first found as a homeless child, he had this comfort:
He waxed strong under the clouds, prospered in honors,
Until all of the nations sitting around
Over the whale-road had to heed him,
And pay tribute. That was a good king!
To him a son was later brought forth,
Young in the dwelling places, whom God sent
To comfort the commonfolk. He perceived
The sinful distress they suffered, lordless a long while.
Because of that, the Life-Lord, Wielder of Glory,
Gave him worldly honor. Beowulf was famous--
His glory spread widely--Shield's son through all the Northlands!
So should a young man work good deeds
In his father's household with splendid treasures . . .

Most readers encounter Anglo-Saxon texts (and other medieval works) in modern translation and modern print (like the example above). However, if we contrast ancient monks and scribes with modern readers, we find the actual experience of reading poetry was a very different experience.

Now that you have read these nineteen lines, let's take a look at the original text by clicking here.

REMEMBER! Each edition and each translation will always be radically different than the original manuscript. Many reasons bring about this difference, including the following:

(1) the problems of translation,

(2) the standardized nature of modern print,

(3) the material structure of medieval books,

(4) the absence of modern punctuation.


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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.