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PreArthurianMyth: "Beowulf" by Unkwown, Seamus Heaney




(Original Review, 20010220)



If you are familiar with the Hindu mythkitty though, you may also find parallels between “Beowulf” and the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. When Jambavan spends a lot of time telling Hanuman about how great he is, to induce him to jump to Lanka in search of Sita, or Arjun surveys the array of warriors against him, described in some detail, leading to the Bhagavad Gita, or the Pandavas' "advisor" at Draupadi's swayamvar asks the unknown Karna to declare his lineage and rank. Beowulf, Anonymous AngloSaxon poet

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is one of the most important works of Old English literature. The 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 AngloSaxon poet, referred to by scholars as the "Beowulf poet".

The story 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 (Götaland in modern Sweden) and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is mortally wounded in the battle.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و یکم ماه سپتامبر سال 2017 میلادی

عنوان: حماسه‌ ی بیوولف؛ نویسنده: ناشناس؛ یان سریلیر؛ مترجم: کامبیز منزوی؛ تهران: موج‏‫، 1386 (1387)؛ در 72ص؛ شابک 9789645834409؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگانسده 10م

عنوان: بیوولف ؛ نویسنده: ای‍ان‌ سیری‌لیئر؛ بارنویسی ژاکلین مورلی؛ مترجم: میثم امینی ؛ تصویرگر لی سیونک؛ ویراستار مهشیدسادات فهیم؛ قزوین سایه گستر، ‏‫1395؛ در 47ص؛ شابک 9786003740068؛

عنوان: بیوولف قهرمان؛ نویسنده: ‏‫تونی بردمن؛ تصویرگر تونی راث؛ مترجم مسعود ملک‌یاری؛ تهران دنیای اقتصاد، کتاب‌های دارکوب، ‏‫1394؛ در 52ص؛ شابک 9786008004035؛‬

عنوان: حماسه بیوولف و دیگر اشعار انگلیسی باستان؛ ترجمه به انگلیسی: کنستانس ب هیات؛ مترجم عباس گودرزی؛ تهران بنگاه ترجمه و نشر کتاب پارسه، ‏‫1395؛ در 166ص؛ ‬ شابک 9786002532497؛

عنوان: حماسه در بیوولف؛ مترجم: بهجت تربتی‌نژاد؛ گرگان: تنعیم‏‫، 1395؛ در 216ص؛ شابک: 9786007413470؛‬

بـِیُوولف نخستین حماسه ی شناخته شده ی اروپایی از نویسنده‌ ای ناشناس است؛ این حماسه به زبان انگلیسی کهن نوشته شده و یکی از برجسته‌ ترین نوشته‌ های ادبی آنگلوساکسون شناخته می‌شود؛ تاریخ‌ نگاران نگارش آن را میان 700میلادی تا یکهزار میلادی برآورد کرده‌ اند؛ این رزمنامه که از سده ی نوزدهم به اینسو به نام «بیوولف» نامور شده‌ است به داستان نبردهای پهلوانی به نام «بیوولف» می‌پردازد، که یک قبیله ی دانمارکی را از دست جانور خونخواری، به نام «گرندل» نجات می‌دهد، و سپس در دریا فرومی‌رود، تا مادر آن جانور را هم بکشد؛ سپس پادشاه قبیله خود می‌شود ولی سرانجام در جنگ با اژدها کشته می‌شود؛

این داستان بن‌مایه و الگوی بسیاری از حماسه‌ های پس از خود شده‌ است؛ نامورترین و امروزی‌ترین آن‌ها اثر پروفسور «تالکین»، «سه‌گانهٔ ارباب حلقه‌ ها» است، که به گفته ی خود او، برداشت بسیاری از «بیوولف» داشته‌ است؛ در آن زمان «تالکین»، بزرگ‌ترین «بیوولف‌ شناس» و پژوهشگر در اینباره به‌ شمار می‌رفته‌ است، و بیشترین شمار جستارهای پژوهشی از آن وی بوده‌ اند؛ همچنین بخشی در «هابیت» که «بیلبو» به کنام «اسماگ» می‌زند هم، به روشنی همانندی بسیاری به داستان شبیخون «بیوولف» به غار «گرندل»، پیش از درگیر شدن با او دارد؛ با اینکه این نگاشته به زبان انگلیسی کهن نوشته شده‌ است، اما «بیوولف» پهلوانی اسکاندیناویایی‌تبار است؛

پیوستگی سه‌ هزار بیت «بیوولف» نشان از آن دارد، که همه ی نگاشته از آن یک نویسنده بوده‌ است؛ اهمیت حماسهٔ «بیوولف» در این است که تمام رسوم دنیای عصر قهرمانی، به وسیلهٔ شاعر منعکس می‌شود؛ بیان ارزش‌های قهرمان، سخاوت شاهانه، وفاداری امیران، عطش کسب شهرت از راه شجاعت و بردباری، لاف و گزاف قبل و بعد از جنگ، افتخار به اصل و نسب و نظیر این ارزش‌ها، همگی با ویژگی‌های حماسه هماهنگند؛ اگرچه شرح عجیب «بیوولف» با عجایب «ادیسه» متفاوت است؛ و امتزاج عناصر عیسوی و ژرمنی، آن را تا حدی تضعیف کرده، با این حال «بیوولف» قدیمی‌ترین حماسه، به یک زبان تئوتونی است، که با بیان زمینهٔ فرهنگی و اجتماعی عصر قهرمانی ملل «ژرمن»، بیانگر رسوم سنتی آن عصر است؛

برخی از پژوهشگران میگویند: حماسه ی بیوولف در سه هزار و یکصد و بیست و هشت مصراع در سده ی هشتم میلادی سروده شده و تنها نسخه ی موجود به لهجه ی ساکسون غربی است، که در سده ی دهم میلادی نگاشته شده‌ است؛ قهرمانان و صحنه‌ های حماسه، همگی اسکاندیناویایی بوده، و غیر از زبان هیچ چیز دیگرش انگلیسی نیست (هرچند اقوام اسکاندیناوی و قوم آنگلوساکسون هردو از تبار ژرمن و خویشاوند می‌باشند)؛ حماسه شامل دو داستان مجزا از دلاوری‌های جوانی و پیری «بیوولف» است و شخصیت قهرمان داستان به این دو نیمه وحدت می‌بخشد

ا. شربیانی Beowulf Is A Major Epic Of AngloSaxon Literature, Probably Composed Between The First Half Of The Seventh Century And The End Of The First Millennium The Poem Was Inspired By Germanic And AngloSaxon Oral Tradition Recounting The Exploits Of Beowulf, The Hero Who Gave His Name To The Poem Here, It's Transcribed As A Verse Epic, Onto Which Are Grafted Christian Additions If I wrote a list of things I don't give a shit about, I'm pretty sure "some big fucking monster whose name sounds like a word for the area between my balls and my ass that attacks alcoholics and is eventually slain by some asshole, told entirely in some ancient form of English that I don't understand" would be near the top (for the record, runon sentences would not. Judge not).

This was one of the first books I was ever assigned to read in high school, and I'm pretty sure it was the catalyst to my never caring about school again.

God do I hate this fucking book. I've just finished reading Beowulf for the third time! But lo, this reading was in the bold and exciting Beowulf: a New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney! And what a difference a day makesHeaney is unstoppable! Rather, he makes Beowulf unstoppable. Unstoppable in his ability to pound you in the face with his manliness and leave you bleedingbutstrangelydesiringmore.

As I said, I've read the epic AngloSaxon poem several times now, but usually, I'm trudging through to get to the "good parts" (i.e., Beowulf's three notable feats), but this time, I was taken aback! The whole durned thing was the good parts! What luck! I read it over the space of three days and boy is my voice tired (I have a distinct inability when it comes to facing these sorts of talesI have to read aloud. And with an accent. And with bluster).

One of the coolest things spicing up this reading (besides Heaney's great translation) was the juxtaposition of the Old English to the translation. As you may know, the only surviving copy of anything close to an original Beowulf is written in Old English (or AngloSaxon) from 'tween AD 700 and 1000. Now Old English isn't just archaic some King James English with lotsa thees, thous, and forsooths, as many people seem to think. It's the illegitimate birth father of Middle English (which I believe came about sometime after AD 1066) which in turn spawned Modern English. Modern English includes the English used in both Shakespeare and the King James Bible as well as the haphazard trash we sprechen today. In truth, Old English is nearly indecipherable. Below, I've included the first three lines of Beowulf, which are not only a great example of what I'm talking about, but strangely fitting for who I am:

Hwæt wê Gârdena in geârdagum
Þêodcyninga Þrym gefrûnon,
hû ðâ æÞelingas ellen fremedon.

Fun, no? Well... so you know, that translates as:

So. The SpearDanes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

Hoorah! Hoorah for the SpearDanes! And...*ahem* ..who cares if by the time Beowulf comes around their busy getting their butts eaten off by Grendel. Hoorah for the SpearDanes! Hoorah for Gârdena (and doesn't that sound like a wonderful name for a city?).

In any case, it was fun to look over at the AngloSaxon to see if I could decipher any of it. Alas, my attention was so rapt upon the tale that I didn't take as much time to peruse the original as I would have liked. But since I bought it, I should be afforded plenty of time for such trivialities. Beowulf is thought to have been written around the year 1000 AD, give or take a century. And the author is the extremely famous, very popular and world renowned writer... Unknown. Got you there, didn't I? LOL Probably not... if you're on Goodreads and studied American or English literature, you probably already knew this is one of the most famous works without an author.



It was first really published in the 1800s, using the Old English version where many have translated it, but there are still some blurry parts of the story. Essentially, a monster named Grendel hunts and kills the people of a town and many warriors have died fighting against it. Beowulf tackles the monster and its mother, and well... you're gonna have to read it to find out. Or if you can't get yourself there, watch the Star Trek or Simpsons episode which does a nice little rendition.



Here's the reasons why you should take a look at the story:

1. Many famous writers and editors have attempted to translate the story into more modern English. Tolkien is a famous example. Each reader has his/her own interpretation. So pick one whose style you like and go to that version.

2. It's a translated book... other than the famous Greek literature we read in high school, it's one of the earliest translated forms of literature. Makes it worth taking a gander.

3. It's a really great story. Monster terrorizes people. Someone strong steps up to fight it. There is a victory of sorts. Momma wants revenge. So... how many books have you read that have just copied... I mean borrowed... that entire plot?



4. There is a lot of beauty in the prose and the verse, and when you hear the words describe the creatures, it's a bit like fantasy.

Here's why you may not like it:

1. It's long.

2. It's hard to understand at some points.

3. It's 1000 years old and you just like modern stories.

My advice... pick a passage or two, read for 30 minutes and decide if it's something you want to read more of. But you should always give a chance to some part of our early heritage and culture. Right?



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[polldaddy poll=9719251] I really don’t think I started Beowulf in the right mindset, and for the first 20 pages I actually wasn’t enjoying it very much at all.
I think this was because I started reading with certain expectations — namely in terms of style, for I am familiar with Seamus Heaney’s poetry. I was put off because, I think, it was not what I was anticipating. There were only a few lines whose construction I really stopped to pool over.
But — game changer — then I listened to the piece read in the original old English, and started reading it aloud to myself. And my appreciation of the language was completely reformed.
My favourite line — “the world’s candle warmed them” (line 1966) What an epic should be... a valiant epic that will relish the joys of poetry at the hands of the translator who has made it possible once more. I enjoyed reading it many times but a freefall into the chasm of poetry was even more interesting and enlightening. ”One of these things, as far as anyone ever can discern, looks like a woman; the other, warped in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale bigger than any man, an unnatural birth called Grendel by country people in former days. They are fatherless creatures, and their whole ancestry is hidden in a past of demons and ghosts. They dwell apart among wolves on the hills, on windswept crags and treacherous keshes, where cold streams pour down the mountain and disappear under mist and moorland.”

 photo Beowulf20Heaneyzpsamhndnds.jpg

It rained, but it was colder than what it should be to be raining. A combination of warmer atmosphere and colder temperatures on the ground produced an ice storm. It hit over the weekend so I could sit quite comfortably by my fireplace and watch out the window as the rain formed into sheets of ice on the streets and sidewalks. Power lines thickened as they became cubed in ice. Foot long and longer icicles dangled and swayed from the power lines, from the eaves of houses, from signs, from fence lines. The most affected though were the trees. The bigger the tree with the thicker branches, the more affected they would be. The ice accumulated on their branches bending and twisting them down to the ground. They became monsters, slumbering beneath an armour of ice.

I’d been thinking about rereading Beowulf for some time. This story has been a part of me for almost as long as I can remember. I read a child’s version when I was young, several times before moving on to other more adult translations. The idea of a man taking on a monster, much stronger than most men, and finding a way to defeat him was compelling mythology for my young mind. The terror of it, the monster that comes into your home and kills in the dead of the night and takes heads as trophies, left shivers in the very center of me.

Beowulf hears of a monster who is attacking the Danes. He is one of thirteen men who decide to go to the rescue of Hrothgar, King of the Danes. He goes because he needs to make a name for himself, as Buliwyf in the movie The 13th Warrior says: ” I have only these hands.” Beowulf is poor, renown for his strength, but he has no Hall to call his own and, but for this small band, no men to call him King.

”Their mailshirts glinted, hard and handlinked; the highgloss iron of their armour rang. So they duly arrived in their grim wargraith and gear at the hall, and, weary from the sea, stacked wide shields of the toughest hardwood against the wall, then collapsed on the benches; battledress and weapons clashed. They collected their spears in a seafarers’ stook, a stand of greyish tapering ash. And the troops were as good as their weapons.”

I had spent most of the day finishing another book and, thus, had started reading Beowulf late in the evening. The wife and my Scottish Terrier had gone to bed, and I was left in the soft glow of my reading lamp. Most of the city had lost power as lines too heavy with ice had crashed down one by one. I had candles close to hand. It never crossed my mind, power or no power, that I would go to bed. Beowulf was written in Old English between 9751025. The Seamus Heaney translation that I read had the Old English on one page and Heaney’s translation on the other page. In college, I took a Chaucer class and became a fair hand at deciphering Middle English, but looking and even pronouncing these unfamiliar words did not ring any ancient bells in my English soul. I would have had better luck reading Greek than Old English.

 photo 432a759ebc8848bcb36c24c3982405f6zpsisuua0xk.png
1,000 year old manuscript of Beowulf.


As Beowulf grapples with Grendel and then with Grendel’s mother, I was just as enthralled with the story as I was as a wee tot. The carnage, the darkness, the uncertainty that Beowulf had to feel, despite his boasts to the contrary, all lend a fine, sharp edge to the tale. As I read, I also started to hear the sharp cracks and howls of ice heavy tree limbs separating from their trunk in much the same way as Beowulf pulls Grendel’s arm loose from his shoulder. The crash of these ice shrouded branches against the frozen ground sounded to my mind like the steel swords of the Geats banging against their metal wrapped shields.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I walked out of my back door into an alien landscape. Each individual stem of grass had frozen into a nub of ice. With every step, my boots crunched and slipped across this icy topography. Piles of limbs laid at the bottoms of the bigger trees. A small limb detached from the cottonwood tree as I stood there and made discordant music as it hit the limbs below before finally landing among its fallen, dying brethren on the ground. The younger trees, more limber, were probably fine, I told myself. They are bowed over as if in supplication to Mother Nature. Their top branches were frozen to the ground, making arches of their shapes. It was all very beautiful. I remembered reading about a party that was given for Anastasia, the Russian princess, before her life became tangled in the turmoil of revolution. The servants were outside spraying water on the trees so they would glitter with ice as the aristocracy arrived on their horse pulled, bell laden sleighs.

I went back inside and peeled off my boots and my jacket and returned to Beowulf. Another log was required for the fire, so I spent a few moments poking the remaining logs to make room for more wood. I flinched as I heard more crashes from outside. An assembly of Geats preparing for battle. When I finally settled back into my chair, Beowulf has become King of the Geats and fights battles with the greatest champions of the land. He involves himself in disagreements. ”When Eofor cleft the old Swede’s helmet, halved it open, he fell, deathpale: his feudcalloused hand could not stave off the fatal blow.”

I just loved that…feudcalloused hand. I also really liked..”your blade making a mizzle of his blood.” There are lines like that all through the story. Words unfamiliar and evocative of a different age.

Beowulf does age and does need the help of others in the end when he battles a dragon, but few men are made with the courage that he is, and they fail to help him when he needs it most. He does kill the dragon, but at the cost of his own life.

No sword blade sent him to his death,
My bare hands stilled his heartbeats
And wrecked the bonehouse. Now blade and hand,
Sword and swordstroke, will assay the hoard.”


Stormy weather requires the proper book and a proper, hot, Scottish tea laced with a few drops of Scotch whiskey. For me Beowulf, those 3,182 lines, added enchantment and necromancy to a world transforming before my eyes into something magical and unknown.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten As a college English major, I studied Beowulf without any great enthusiasm; my real love was for the Romantic poets. And Chaucer, but that might have been partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were studying such bawdy material at BYU. Plus you can still puzzle out The Canterbury Tales in its original Middle English, with the help of a few handy annotations, while Beowulf in the original Old Englishother than the immortal (at least in my mind) line "Bēowulf is mīn nama"is beyond anyone but scholars, and it loses something in translation.

So I cheerfully forgot about Beowulf until I was puttering around in Barnes and Noble one day, and came across Seamus Heaney's recent translation. I read his forward and was absolutely entranced by its brilliance. Heaney tosses off phrases like "the poem possesses a mythic potency" and talks about the "three archetypal sites of fear: the barricaded nighthouse, the infested underwater current, and the reptilehaunted rocks of a wilderness." He discusses how we are enveloped "in a society that is at once honourbound and bloodstained, presided over by the laws of the bloodfeud." And he explains in detail how he went about creating a new translation of the poem and the difficulty of finding the right voice:
A simple sentence such as "We cut the corn today" took on immense dignity when one of [my father's relatives] spoke it. They had a kind of Native American solemnity of utterance, as if they were announcing verdicts rather than making small talk. And when I came to ask myself how I wanted Beowulf to sound in my version, I realized I wanted it to be speakable by one of those relatives.
Anyway, all this is to explain why, after years of blissfully ignoring Beowulf, I felt compelled to buy this book and give it another try. Did it hold up to my hopes? Well, not quite. I still appreciate Beowulf more than I love it. But I heard the solemn, deliberate voice that Heaney was seeking to use, and I thought he did a great job of translating it as well as possible into modern English while preserving the original feel and intent of the poem. I love the liberal use of alliteration and the compound words (whaleroad = sea; ringgiver = king) that are found in the original version of the poem as well as this translation. I felt the sidebyside nobility and brutality of these characters from (it's surmised) 6th century Scandinavia. And I was getting some serious Tolkien vibes from the ending, which is not at all a bad thing.

In the end, it was a bit of a tough slog reading through the entire poem, but I'm glad I did it. I think I still love Heaney's forward more than I love the actual Beowulf poem. I need to check out J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf translation one of these days.