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Beowulf: An Online Introduction


II. Below, you can see a digitalized image of the first page of Beowulf. Beowulf survives in only one medieval manuscript: Cotton Vitellius A.xv (known more commonly as the "Nowell Codex") in the British Museum. Be sure to expand your web-browser to its largest size so you won't cut off any of the text. You can then scroll down to an exercise at the bottom of this page.

 

Above: Cotton Vitellius A.x.v. 129 r. As reproduced in Julius Zupitza's Beowulf: Autotypes of the Unique Cotton MS Vitellius A.xv. in the British Museum with a Transliteration and Notes.E.E.T.S. O.S. 77. London: Trubner & Co., 1882.


EXERCISE: (You will need scratch-paper)
#1: Try to create an alphabet for this scribe. Identify and write down what his a's look like, his b's, and so on. Are they any letters you do not recognize? Make a list of these letters. Compare this version with what you have in the textbook in order to figure out what sound they represent.

WARNING: some letters may look like modern letters, but actually be a different letter altogether. Several letters he uses no longer exist in modern English. Click here for more information.

The letter "wyn" looks kind of like a capital <P> but it represents a /w/ sound like the letter <w>. Likewise, the letter "thorn" also looks a bit like the letter <p> with an elongated vertical bar, but it represents a /-th/ sound. The letter "eth" looks a bit like a a lower-case <d>, but it also represents a /-th/ sound.

#2: Transcribe (copy) the first few lines by hand. If you have have trouble, you can click here to look at a neater computer transcription of the same page against a white back-ground. When you are done, check what you write against what appears in your textbook.

#3: Note the line-breaks. Where does the line break in the manuscript? Where do the lines break in your textbook? Where do the line-breaks appear in the Zupitza transcription? Why do you think Zupitza made those line-breaks where he did?

 

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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2014. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated November 5, 2014. 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.