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Topic: Beowulf

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Subject: Beowulf
Date Posted: 10/29/2007 4:27 PM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 3
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I am highly interested in reading this story.  However, there are several versions currently available in the posted books section.  Are they all the same story just translated by different people/  If not, I would like to know which is the best version to read.   Thanks!

Date Posted: 11/2/2007 4:16 PM ET
Member Since: 1/4/2007
Posts: 150
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i really enjoyed reading seamus heaney's translation of beowulf. it is wonderfully written. it has a pretty short WL. The available translations will be the same story, I just think heaney's is more exciting and has more immediacy and description. if you end up enjoying beowulf you could also read grendel by john gardner- which is a short novel with the monster from beowulf as the protagonist.

Date Posted: 11/10/2007 8:29 PM ET
Member Since: 5/17/2005
Posts: 76
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Beowulf was written in Old English, which you wouldn't be able to read without training. So any modernized version is a translation. You do miss a lot with a translation, but I realize not everyone wants to spend time learning Old English, so at least you can still get the story with the translation.

Most people will recommend the Seamus Heaney version. It's okay. By that I mean it's a beautiful poem, but it's not truly Beowulf. Most of us (scholars) call it "Heaneywulf" - he really took a lot of liberties in his translation. But he does make it all sound wonderful.

Each translator will put his/her own spin on the poem. As it exists in only one manuscript, which has some questionable sections (some unreadable words and an entire page that is very hard to make out), the translator has to make choices about those sections. Some of them vary quite a lot.

Of course, this is the scholar in me talking, who doesn't rely on translations and finds them lacking (yes, I've read Beowulf entirely in the original Old English). For the general reader, any translation should work to at least give you an idea of the story.

Date Posted: 11/17/2007 1:52 PM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2006
Posts: 64
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Turns out it's being made into a movie, which opens this week.  No idea if it's true to the story or "Hollywoodized" into a different story.  I know my brother read the book in Middle English in high school and really loved it.

Date Posted: 11/19/2007 7:08 AM ET
Member Since: 5/17/2005
Posts: 76
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Laura, the movie is really NOT Beowulf - very much Hollywoodized. *shudder*

And it's Old English, not Middle English - and I doubt that a high school class would read it in the original language. Can you read this?

HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,

þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,

hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!

oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,

monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,

egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð

feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,

weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,

oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra

ofer hronrade hyran scolde, gomban gyldan;

þæt wæs god cyning!

Date Posted: 11/27/2007 10:44 PM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2006
Posts: 64
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Actually I can't but I thought he read it in Middle English because he really got into it and learned the language enough to write a several-pages-long poem which I could kind of understand by puzzling it out.  I do get your point that Beowulf was written in Old English and I am glad of your scholarship.  What you wrote looks good!  What does it mean?

Date Posted: 12/5/2007 8:23 AM ET
Member Since: 5/17/2005
Posts: 76
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Perhaps it was something else (the Canterbury Tales maybe) that was read in Middle English.

The lines above are the opening to Beowulf. I would translate it something like:

Listen! We heard of the glory of the Spear-Danes, of the kings of the people, in days gone by, how those noblemen performed courage! Often Scyld Scafing seized the mead benches from the enemy, from many people, terrorized the fierce earls, after he was first found destitute; he received comfort for that, waxed under the clouds he gained world-honor, until to him each of the neighboring people, across the whale-road [I love this word! It means the "sea"], must obey, must give tribute; that was a good king!

Date Posted: 12/6/2007 5:39 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
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Wow!   And I thought Chaucerian (Middle English) was almost undecipherable!   That is, until I saw this snippet of Old English....."April with his showers sweet"  seems  so  transparent now!   Hahahahahaha . . . . I love the stuff that turns up in this Forum from time to time----thanks.

Date Posted: 12/6/2007 6:13 PM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2006
Posts: 64
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Wow,  That's beautiful.  And you're right, it was the Canterbury Tales. 

Date Posted: 12/7/2007 7:12 AM ET
Member Since: 5/17/2005
Posts: 76
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You're welcome. :)

Date Posted: 12/9/2007 4:39 AM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 14
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Howell Chickering did a pleasant enough translation in 1977.  It's rather entertaining due to a couple of factors - Chickering chose to maintain the significant pause (caesura) that occurs in the lines of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse poetry (i.e., Often Scyld Scefing     seized mead-benches), so that sort of gives the idea of the rhythm of the spoken poem.  It's also got facing Old English text, and I've always found facing-text editions of poetry in translation to be a heap of fun.

 

 

Date Posted: 3/5/2008 3:07 PM ET
Member Since: 8/15/2007
Posts: 454
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The Seamus Heaney version was probably the first version of Beowulf I ever picked up, but I have read several versions.

I also saw the movie Beowulf and Grendel not too long ago with Gerard Butler starring Gerard Butler as Beowulf. I thought it was pretty good, however, the newer movie that was just released with Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie sucked.