The following is reprinted from my Internet research column in the Song of Lyr (the Shire of Carreg Wen Newsletter) of March 2004, with some updates. If there is interest in this type of thing, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
This month we will take a break from medieval European religions (sort of). With Black Oak Lodge and its Beowulf theme looming, let’s look at Beowulf and some related sources.
Beowulf is a story that survives in a single text that was known “in period”. Modern techniques have dated the text to about 1000 CE. The text itself mentions an actual event that took place in 521 CE (the death of Hygelac). These two dates are the only certain limits of the true date of the story’s composition. From the style and comparison to various possible kingdoms of likely origins, scholars generally agree that the original poem was most likely written around 650 to 850 CE. The document is significant in that it is the most complete, and likely the oldest, of the very few early epics written in English.
Beowulf is an Old English epic poem with roots in the Germanic style. It differs from the Germanic epics in several ways. Firstly, it is written in Old English. Secondly, it has several characteristics that are attributed to the Christian influence in the British Isles. Those include the “human-ness” of the protagonist. In a true Germanic epic the hero would be a semi-deity, while Beowulf is a mere human, if of miraculous strength. Christianity aside, there is much made of duty, honor and vengeance.
The original text is available from several sources in Old English, Here is my favorite. It breaks the text up into half lines as in the original text.
Update 11/2013: Recent scholarship suggests that the opening word might be better translated as “Listen!” or “ Hark!”, rather than just a generic attention getting word like “Lo” as classically translated. —
Here is a translation in Modern English
Here is a source with lots of resource links. Included is a site with a fun list of Old English words for modern terms like “browser”, “hexadecimal”, and “beta release”.
Update: This is a dead link.Suggestions for a replacement would be appreciated