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Beowulf and Other Old English Poems
Cover of Beowulf and Other Old English Poems
Beowulf and Other Old English Poems
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Unique and beautiful, Beowulf brings to life a society of violence and honor, fierce warriors and bloody battles, deadly monsters and famous swords. Written by an unknown poet in about the eighth...
Unique and beautiful, Beowulf brings to life a society of violence and honor, fierce warriors and bloody battles, deadly monsters and famous swords. Written by an unknown poet in about the eighth...
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  • Unique and beautiful, Beowulf brings to life a society of violence and honor, fierce warriors and bloody battles, deadly monsters and famous swords. Written by an unknown poet in about the eighth century, this masterpiece of Anglo-Saxton literature transforms legends, myth, history, and ancient songs into the richly colored tale of the hero Beowulf, the loathsome man-eater Grendel, his vengeful water-hag mother, and a treasure-hoarding dragon. The earliest surviving epic poem in any modern European language. Beowulf is a stirring portrait of a heroic world–somber, vast, and magnificent.

Excerpts-

  • From the book PROLOGUE:
    The Founding of the Scylding Dynasty


    Indeed, we have heard of the glory of the great Danish kings in days of old and the noble deeds of the princes. Scyld Scefing often drove troops of enemies from their mead-hall seats; he terrified the lords of many tribes, although he had once been a destitute foundling. He found consolation for that: he prospered under the heavens, and grew in glory, until every one of his neighbors over the sea had to obey him and pay tribute. That was a good king.

    Then a son was born to him, a child in the house, sent by God to help the people—he saw the distress they had suffered before when they were without a ruler for a long time. Therefore the Lord of life, Ruler of heaven, granted worldly honor to the son of Scyld. Beowulf was famous; his renown spread far and wide in the land of the Danes. A young man should do as he did, and with splendid gifts from his father's store win loyal companions who will stand by him in old age and serve the people when war comes. He who does praiseworthy deeds will prosper everywhere.

    Scyld departed from him at the fated time: the mighty man went into the keeping of the Lord. His own dear retainers bore away the beloved king, who had governed them so long, to the current of the sea, as he himself had ordered while he could still use words. There in the harbor stood a ring-prowed ship, covered with ice and ready to set out; it was a craft fit for a prince. They laid their dear lord, the giver of rings, in the bosom of the ship; they put the glorious one by the mast. Many treasures and precious things from far away were brought there—never was a ship more beautifully equipped with armor and weapons of war, swords and coats of mail. On the dead lord's bosom lay a multitude of treasures that were to go far with him in the power of the flood; nor did they give him less valuable treasure than did those who first sent him forth, alone over the waves, when he was a child. They set a golden banner high over his head; then they gave him to the sea and let the water carry him away. Their spirits were saddened, their hearts mournful. Men on earth, even the wisest of counselors, do not know how to tell who truly received that cargo.


    PART I: The Cleansing of Heorot

    Heorot Is Built and Assaulted by the Monster Grendel

    1

    When the prince his father was gone, Beowulf, son of Scyld, reigned over the people; he was renowned among nations for a long time. To him in turn was born high Healfdene, who rules the Danes gloriously as long as he lived—a venerable leader, fierce in battle. To Healfdene, the leader of hosts, four children all told were born into the world: Heorogar and Hrothgar and Halga the Good, and a daughter, who, they say, was Onela's queen—consort of the Swedish king.

    Then Hrothgar was granted success in battle and glory in war, so that his friends and kinsmen obeyed him willingly, and his band of warriors grew large. It came into his mind to order a great mead-hall built, one which the children of men should hear of forever; there he would give out all that God gave him (except the public land and the lives of men) to young and old. I have heard that he then ordered work to adorn the building from nations far and wide throughout this earth. The time soon came when the greatest of halls was quite ready, and the ruler whose word was widely respected gave it the name of Heorot. He did not forget his promise to give out rings and treasures at the feast. The hall towered, high and wide-gabled: it awaited the hostile flames of hateful fire. The time had not yet come when deadly hate would arise between a son and...

About the Author-

  • The identity of Beowulf’s author and the exact date and place of its composition are unknown. A single copy of the poem, dated about the year 1000, survived Henry VIII’s destruction of England’s monasteries and was collected by Sir Robert Cotton. This copy was damaged, but not disastrously, in a library fire in 1731 and was finally placed in the British Museum in 1753. The Danish scholar Thorkelin had copies made of it in 1787 and published the whole of it for the first time in 1815. Originally untitled, it is named after its hero, Beowulf, and is divided into two parts: In the first part the young Beowulf battles the monster Gredel and Grendels vengeful mother; in the second, an aged Beowulf kills a fire-breathing dragon but is himself mortally wounded.

    No historic Beowulf is known to have existed, but some events described in the poem did take place in the sixth century. Early scholars tried to prove that more than one poet wrote the work, but it is now generally accepted that, like the Iliad’s Homer, there was one composer of Beowulf, who took the stories, legends, and myths of his culture’s oral traditions and bound them together with his own artistic vision. Written in England at least fifty years after the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, and perhaps much later, the poem is recognized today as the longest and greatest poem extant in Old English–yet it describes an ancient heroic society of Danes and Geats in Scandinavia; there is not one word about England, or about the people who come to be known as the English, in the poem.

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