Transcriptions and Translations


Icelandic scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin made the first transcriptions of the manuscript in 1786 and published the results in 1815, working as part of a Danish government historical research commission. He made one himself, and had another done by a professional copyist who knew no Anglo-Saxon. Since that time, however, the manuscript has crumbled further, making these transcripts a prized witness to the text. While the recovery of at least 2000 letters can be attributed to them, their accuracy has been called into question,[c] and the extent to which the manuscript was actually more readable in Thorkelin's time is uncertain.

Translations and adaptations

A great number of translations and adaptations are available, in poetry and prose. Andy Orchard, in A Critical Companion to Beowulf, lists 33 "representative" translations in his bibliography,[69] while the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies published Marijane Osborn's annotated list of over 300 translations and adaptations in 2003.[70] Beowulf has been translated into at least 23 other languages.[71]

19th century

In 1805, the historian Sharon Turner translated selected verses into modern English.[72] This was followed in 1814 by John Josias Conybeare who published an edition "in English paraphrase and Latin verse translation."[72] In 1815, Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin published the first complete edition in Latin.[72] N. F. S. Grundtvig reviewed this edition in 1815 and created the first complete verse translation in Danish in 1820.[72] In 1837, John Mitchell Kemble created an important literal translation in English.[72] In 1895, William Morris & A. J. Wyatt published the ninth English translation.[72] Many retellings of Beowulf for children began appearing in the 20th century.[73]

20th century

In 1909, Francis Barton Gummere's full translation in "English imitative meter" was published,[72] and was used as the text of Gareth Hinds's graphic novel based on Beowulf in 2007.

First published in 1928, Frederick Klaeber's Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg[74] (which included the poem in Old English, an extensive glossary of Old English terms, and general background information) became the "central source used by graduate students for the study of the poem and by scholars and teachers as the basis of their translations."[75]

Following research in the King's College London Archives, Carl Kears proposed that John Porter's translation, published in 1975 by Bill Griffiths' Pirate Press, was the first complete verse translation of the poem entirely accompanied by facing-page Old English.[76]

Seamus Heaney's 1999 translation of the poem (referred to by Howell Chickering and many others as "Heaneywulf"[77]) was widely publicized.

21st century

R. D. Fulk, of Indiana University, published the first facing-page edition and translation of the entire Nowell Codex manuscript in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series in 2010.[78]

Translating Beowulf is one of the subjects of the 2012 publication Beowulf at Kalamazoo, containing a section with 10 essays on translation, and a section with 22 reviews of Heaney's translation (some of which compare Heaney's work with that of Anglo-Saxon scholar Roy Liuzza).[79]

J. R. R. Tolkien's long-awaited translation (edited by his son, Christopher) was published in 2014 as Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.[80][81] This also includes Tolkien's own retelling of the story of Beowulf in his tale, Sellic Spell.

Maria Dahvana Headley published 'The Mere Wife' in 2018, retelling the story from the point of view of Grendel's Mother.[82]

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