Beowulf is an extremely well known and influential piece of Anglo-Saxon literature. The 3182 line poem, which operates under the appropriate description of ‘heroic epic’ poetry.
This poem was written sometime in the period between the 8th and 11th centuries, though the identity of the writer is unknown, and was set in Scandinavia.
The ever increasing, and wide ranging popularity of this poem meant that it drew much interest, in terms of many different translations being offered. One translation, however, which has been highly credited as the most accurate and true to the original story, is the translation carried out by renowned Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. It has been noted that Heaney’s translation contained Northern Irish diction, and many Irish phrases, which may have contributed to its qualities of uniqueness.
On a more general level, the original version of Beowulf is quite a typical example of Anglo-Saxon poetry in terms of the techniques and language styles used. As with most Anglo-Saxon literature, alliteration plays a big role in the oral telling of the poem.
‘He put no blame on the blade’s cutting edge’ (line 1811, Seamus Heaney’s translation)
This line from the modern translation is a good example of how Heaney managed to successfully preserve the alliterative qualities of the original version of the poem. This is a great achievement, as the translation is also fully idiomatic.
The poem’s story itself is quite intriguing, regarding its reflection on how society operated at the time of writing. It is of course a mythical interpretation rather than realistic, though it is quite gripping nonetheless. Beowulf himself has the qualities of a great warrior, and throughout the poem, he engages in three major battles.
of Heorot, where King Hrothgar, and his wife WealhÞeow spend time singing and celebrating with their warriors. Grendel’s attack and murder of Hrothgar’s warriors prompts Beowulf to come to offer to help Hrothgar. During this battle, Grendel’s skin proves impenetrable by the swords of Beowulf’s thanes. Grendel is finally defeated by Beowulf, who tears Grendel’s arm from his body, which leaves him fleeing home to die in the marshes.
Grendel’s mother is the source of Beowulf’s second battle. The monster attacks Heorot in an Beowulf, who, armed with a sword presented to him by another warrior. Once in battle, Beowulf realises that this sword is powerless over his enemy, and he throws it away. Beowulf eventually defeats her by grabbing a sword from her armoury and using it to behead her.
Having coming through this second battle victorious, Beowulf returns home to his people, and becomes king. Much later in Beowulf’s life, a slave steals a golden cup from the lair of a dragon, who is furious when he realises what has happened, and flies into a rage in which he burns everything he can. Beowulf comes to confront the dragon, with two warriors. One of his warriors, Wiglaf, stays to help him. Between them, they slay the dragon, however, beowulf died of his wounds. In the end, Beowulf was cremated and buried with the dragon’s treasure.
For me, this incredible poem has been extremely influential since its conception, and will continue to provide inspiration for many texts in the future.