Translation and Transformation: History Through the Eyes of Beowulf College

Culture and language have always been, by their very nature, intertwined. Neither can exist without the other. As the world shifts perspectives and culture evolves, so must language evolve with it. Old tales become wordy and dated, hardly seeming relevant in modern society. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, our language grows ever condensed, and few tales can demonstrate this shift so well as Beowulf.

In order to appreciate the evolution of the poem toward our modern-day translations, it is important that that we look at the past. From the mead halls of old to the modern classroom, each retelling of the story demonstrates the subtle shifts in the culture that surrounded it. In an early translation by English scholar Thomas Arnold in 1876 titled Beowulf: An Epic Poem Translated from Anglo-Saxon Into English Verse, Arnold translates the description of the titular character’s journey as follows: “Then the foamy-necked cruiser, hurried on by the wind, flew over the sea, most like to a bird, until, about the first hour of the next day, the vessel with twisted stem had run [so far], that the mariners saw land, the sea-cliffs glittering, -- steep mountains, large headlands.” Interestingly, Arnold made the decision not to...

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