Beowulf

Beowulf (bā´əwŏŏlf), oldest English epic, probably composed in the early 8th cent. by an Anglian bard in the vicinity of Northumbria. It survives in only one manuscript, written c.AD 1000 by two scribes and preserved in the British Library in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton. The materials for the poem are derived mainly from Scandinavian history, folk tale, and mythology. Its narrative consists of two parts: The first relates Beowulf's successful fights with the water monster Grendel and with Grendel's mother; the second narrates the hero's victory in his old age over a dragon and his subsequent death and funeral at the end of a long life of honor. These events take place entirely in Denmark and Sweden. The poem contains a remarkable fusion of pagan and Christian elements and provides a vivid picture of old Germanic life. It is written in a strongly accentual, alliterative verse. There have been some 65 translations of the work into modern English; one of the most accomplished is by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (2000).

See The Beowulf Poet: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by D. K. Fry (1968); studies by K. Sisam (1965), J. C. Pope (rev. ed. 1966), E. B. Irving (1968), R. Girvan and R. Bruce-Mitford (1971), K. S. Kiernan (1981), W. F. Bolston (1982), and J. D. Ogilvy and D. C. Baker (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Beowulf: Selected full-text books and articles

Beowulf: The Oldest English Epic By Charles W. Kennedy Oxford University Press, 1978
Librarian’s tip: Includes Beowulf and commentary
CliffsNotes, Beowulf By Stanley P. Baldwin Hungry Minds, 2000
Rereading Beowulf By Edward B. Irving Jr University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992
The Origins of Beowulf: From Vergil to Wiglaf By Richard North Oxford University Press, 2006
The Audience of Beowulf By Dorothy Whitelock Clarendon Press, 1951
Beowulf and Celtic Tradition By Martin Puhvel Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1979
Language, Sign, and Gender in Beowulf By Gillian R. Overing Southern Illinois University Press, 1990
The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature By Joyce Tally Lionarons Hisarlik, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Beowulf and the Beowulf Dragon"
On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears By Stephen T. Asma Oxford University Press, 2009
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Monster Killer"
The Masculine Queen of 'Beowulf.' By Dockray-Miller, Mary Women and Language, Vol. 21, No. 2, Fall 1998
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Decorum of 'Beowulf.' By Abraham, Lenore Philological Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 3, Summer 1993
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
God's Handiwork: Images of Women in Early Germanic Literature By Richard J. Schrader Greenwood Press, 1983
Librarian’s tip: "Beowulf" begins on p. 36
The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture By Paul C. Bauschatz University of Massachusetts Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Beowulf and the Nature of Events"
Rituals of Power: From Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages By Frans Theuws; Janet L. Nelson Brill, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Beyond Power: Ceremonial Exchanges in Beowulf" begins on p 311
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