Review of the book Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem by J. Lesslie Hall



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Book Title : Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem (Note: Translated From The Heyne-Socin Text by Lesslie Hall)
Author : J. Lesslie Hall
LoC Class : Language and Literatures: English literature
Subject : Epic poetry, English (Old), Monsters — Poetry, Dragons — Poetry
Language English

 

Review of the book Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem by J. Lesslie Hall

 

It may be the oldest surviving long poem in Old English and is commonly cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature. A date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars; the only certain dating pertains to the manuscript, which was produced between 975 and 1025. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, referred to by scholars as the “Beowulf poet”.

The poem is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel’s mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is fatally wounded in the battle.

After his death, his attendants cremate his body and erect a tower on a headland in his memory. The full poem survives in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex, located in the British Library. It has no title in the original manuscript, but has become known by the name of the story’s protagonist. In 1731, the manuscript was badly damaged by a fire that swept through Ashburnham House in London that had a collection of medieval manuscripts assembled by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton.

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The poem survives in a single copy in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. It has no title in the original manuscript, but has become known by the name of the story’s protagonist. In 1731, the manuscript was damaged by a fire that swept through Ashburnham House in London that had a collection of medieval manuscripts assembled by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton; the margins were charred, and a number of readings were lost. The Nowell Codex is housed in the British Library.

 

Summary of the book Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem by J. Lesslie Hall

 

The protagonist Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword that he found in her lair.

Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorized by a dragon, some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon to its lair at Earnanæs, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf, whose name means “remnant of valour”, dares to join him. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour.

Beowulf is considered an epic poem in that the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts. The poem also begins in medias res or simply, “in the middle of things,” which is a characteristic of the epics of antiquity. Although the poem begins with Beowulf’s arrival, Grendel’s attacks have been an ongoing event. An elaborate history of characters and their lineages is spoken of, as well as their interactions with each other, debts owed and repaid, and deeds of valour. The warriors form a kind of brotherhood linked by loyalty to their lord. The poem begins and ends with funerals: at the beginning of the poem for Scyld Scefing (26–45) and at the end for Beowulf (3140–3170).

Beowulf survives in a single parchment manuscript dated on palaeographical grounds to the late 10th or early 11th century. The manuscript measures 245 × 185 mm.

 

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Useful External Links

Beowulf on Wikipedia



 

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