The Beowulf Poet

On the Beowulf Poet
by J. Zimmerman

* The Beowulf manuscript. * Time line. * Translation comparisons.
* Beowulf by Seamus Heaney. * Beowulf text, introduction, and glossary by Michael Alexander.
* Characters and Names. * Links. * Books.

The Beowulf manuscript

Time line

449 C.E. Hengest came to Kent; quite possibly the Hengest named in Beowulf.
Early 6th century, about 520. Death in history of Hygelac.
Late 6th century. Start of action in Beowulf.
7th century Anglo-Saxons adopted Christianity.
7th century Approximate date of the Hoard.
793. In Northumbria, flying dragons were seen flying through the air.
899. Death of Anglo-Saxon King Alfred. By this time, likely a written version of Beowulf likely existed "in a written version substantially similar to the text we have" [Michael Alexander].
about 1000 C.E. Beowulf copied into the single existing manuscript, now in the British Library.
1066. Norman conquest of Britain. Interest in Anglo-Saxon is squashed.
1833. First English edition published by Kemble (friend of Tennyson).
2010. Staffordshire Hoard of garnet-encrusted gold weaponry from approximately 700 A.D. Mercia. Possibly the cache shows actual armor worn by leaders.

Buy 'Beowulf: A new verse translation' by Seamus Heaney (bilingual edition) Beowulf: A new verse translation (2000)
(bilingual edition)
by Seamus Heaney.

Beowulf: A new verse translation (bilingual edition) by Seamus Heaney:

Beowulf (1995)
text, introduction, and glossary
by Michael Alexander.

Beowulf text, introduction, and glossary by Michael Alexander.

Main Characters and Names

Warrior prince of the Geats, son of Ecgtheow, maternal grandson of Hrethel, and maternal nephew of Hygelac.
Vanquishes Grendel and Grendel's mother before returning home to rule for 50 years and then slay a dragon.
Danes (or Shieldings).
Led by Hrothgar, great grandson of Shield Sheafson.
Ecgtheow. [edge (and hence (by synecdoche) sword) servant]
Warrior the Geats and father of Beowulf.
Led by Hygelac, brother of Beowulf's mother (i.e. his maternal uncle). They occupy an area of what is called Southern Sweden in the 21st century.
A man-eating monster that terrorizes the Danes until defeated by Beowulf.
Leader of the Geats; maternal grandfather of Beowulf, who was sent as a child to live with Hrethel.
Hrothgar. [Glory spear]
Leader of the Danes. Great grandson of Scyld Scefing
Leader of the Geats and maternal uncle of Beowulf.
Scyld Scefing
Founder of the Danes.
Written "Shield Sheafson" in Heaney's version.
Hrothgar leads them.

Translation comparisons

Also see excellent translation comparison and commentaries by V. Poulakis of

Opening lines, lines 1-3.
Heaney So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by / and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness. / We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

Grendel appears, lines 710-711.
Heaney In off the moors, down through the mist bands / God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.

Beowulf kills Grendel's mother, lines 1565-1569.
Heaney [and swung /]
the blade in an arc, a resolute blow / that bit deep into her neck-bone / and severed it entirely, toppling the doomed / house of her flesh; she fell to the floor. / The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated.

The dragon burns the land of the Geats, lines 2312-2315.
Heaney The dragon began to belch out flames / and burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow / that scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger / would leave nothing alive in his wake.

Beowulf and the dragon begin to fight, lines 2555-2559.
Heaney the time was over / for peace and parleying. Pouring forth / in a hot battle-fume, the breath of the monster / burst from the rock. There was a rumble under ground.

Last lines, lines 3180-3182.
Heaney They said that of all the kings upon the earth / he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, / kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.



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