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Historical background[ edit ] Approximate central regions of tribes mentioned in Beowulf, with the location of the Angles in Angeln. See Scandza for details of Scandinavia's political fragmentation in the 6th century. The events in the poem take place over most of the sixth century, after the Anglo-Saxons had started migrating to England and before the beginning of the seventh century, a time when the Anglo-Saxons were either newly arrived or were still in close contact with their Germanic kinsmen in Northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. The stories in the poem may have been brought to England by people of Geatish origins. Although Beowulf himself is not mentioned in any other Anglo-Saxon manuscript,  scholars generally agree that many of the other figures referred to in Beowulf also appear in Scandinavian sources.
The two slay the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. After Beowulf dies, Wiglaf remains by his side, grief-stricken.
When the rest of the men finally return, Wiglaf bitterly admonishes them, blaming their cowardice for Beowulf's death. Afterward, Beowulf is ritually burned on a great pyre in Geatland while his people wail and mourn him, fearing that without him, the Geats are defenceless against attacks from surrounding tribes.
Afterwards, a barrow, visible from the sea, is built in his memory Beowulf lines — Albert Lord felt strongly that the manuscript represents the transcription of a performance, though likely taken at more than one sitting. Tolkien believed that the poem retains too genuine a memory of Anglo-Saxon paganism to have been composed more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianisation of England around AD ,  and Tolkien's conviction that the poem dates to the 8th century has been defended by Tom Shippey , Leonard Neidorf, Rafael J.
Pascual, and R. Fulk, among others.
On the other hand, some scholars argue that linguistic, palaeographical, metrical, and onomastic considerations align to support a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century;     in particular, the poem's regular observation of etymological length distinctions Max Kaluza's law has been thought to demonstrate a date of composition in the first half of the eighth century.
Hutcheson, for instance, does not believe Kaluza's Law can be used to date the poem, while claiming that "the weight of all the evidence Fulk presents in his book [b] tells strongly in favour of an eighth-century date. XV Beowulf survives in a single manuscript dated on palaeographical grounds to the late 10th or early 11th century.
The Beowulf manuscript is known as the Nowell Codex, gaining its name from 16th-century scholar Laurence Nowell. XV" because it was one of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton 's holdings in the Cotton library in the middle of the 17th century. Many private antiquarians and book collectors, such as Sir Robert Cotton, used their own library classification systems.
XV" translates as: the 15th book from the left on shelf A the top shelf of the bookcase with the bust of Roman Emperor Vitellius standing on top of it, in Cotton's collection.
Smith's catalogue appeared in , and Wanley's in In the letter to Wanley, Hickes responds to an apparent charge against Smith, made by Wanley, that Smith had failed to mention the Beowulf script when cataloguing Cotton MS. Vitellius A. Hickes replies to Wanley "I can find nothing yet of Beowulph. Since then, parts of the manuscript have crumbled along with many of the letters.
Rebinding efforts, though saving the manuscript from much degeneration, have nonetheless covered up other letters of the poem, causing further loss. Kevin Kiernan, in preparing his electronic edition of the manuscript, used fibre-optic backlighting and ultraviolet lighting to reveal letters in the manuscript lost from binding, erasure, or ink blotting.
The first scribe made a point of carefully regularizing the spelling of the original document by using the common West Saxon language and by avoiding any archaic or dialectical features. The second scribe, who wrote the remainder, with a difference in handwriting noticeable after line , seems to have written more vigorously and with less interest.
As a result, the second scribe's script retains more archaic dialectic features which allow modern scholars to ascribe the poem a cultural context. In the way that it is currently bound, the Beowulf manuscript is followed by the Old English poem Judith.
Judith was written by the same scribe that completed Beowulf as evidenced through similar writing style. Worm-holes found in the last leaves of the Beowulf manuscript that aren't present in the Judith manuscript suggest that at one point Beowulf ended the volume. The rubbed appearance of some leaves also suggest that the manuscript stood on a shelf unbound, as is known to have been the case with other Old English manuscripts. Rather, given the implications of the theory of oral-formulaic composition and oral tradition, the question concerns how the poem is to be understood, and what sorts of interpretations are legitimate.
Scholarly discussion about Beowulf in the context of the oral tradition was extremely active throughout the s and s. The debate might be framed starkly as follows: on the one hand, we can hypothesise a poem put together from various tales concerning the hero the Grendel episode, the Grendel's mother story, and the fire drake narrative. These fragments would have been told for many years in tradition, and learned by apprenticeship from one generation of illiterate poets to the next.
The poem is composed orally and extemporaneously, and the archive of tradition on which it draws is oral, pagan, Germanic, heroic, and tribal. On the other hand, one might posit a poem which is composed by a literate scribe, who acquired literacy by way of learning Latin and absorbing Latinate culture and ways of thinking , probably a monk and therefore profoundly Christian in outlook.
On this view, the pagan references would be a sort of decorative archaising. However, scholars such as D. Crowne have proposed the idea that the poem was passed down from reciter to reciter under the theory of oral-formulaic composition , which hypothesises that epic poems were at least to some extent improvised by whoever was reciting them, and only much later written down.
In his landmark work, The Singer of Tales , Albert Lord refers to the work of Francis Peabody Magoun and others, saying "the documentation is complete, thorough, and accurate. This exhaustive analysis is in itself sufficient to prove that Beowulf was composed orally. While "themes" inherited narrative subunits for representing familiar classes of event, such as the "arming the hero",  or the particularly well-studied "hero on the beach" theme  do exist across Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic works, some scholars conclude that Anglo-Saxon poetry is a mix of oral-formulaic and literate patterns, arguing that the poems both were composed on a word-by-word basis and followed larger formulae and patterns.
Instead, he proposed that other pieces of Germanic literature contain "kernels of tradition" from which Beowulf borrows and expands upon. Schaefer's concept of "vocality" offers neither a compromise nor a synthesis of the views which see the poem as on the one hand Germanic, pagan, and oral and on the other Latin-derived, Christian, and literate, but, as stated by Monika Otter: " 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 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[ edit ] Main article: List of translations and artistic depictions of Beowulf 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,  while the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies published Marijane Osborn's annotated list of over translations and adaptations in Grundtvig reviewed this edition in and created the first complete verse translation in Danish in Wyatt published the ninth English translation.
First published in , Frederick Klaeber 's Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg  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. The US publication was commissioned by W. 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 Tolkien 's long-awaited translation edited by his son, Christopher was published in as Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.
These are important in helping historians understand the Beowulf manuscript, as possible source-texts or influences would suggest time-frames of composition, geographic boundaries within which it could be composed, or range both spatial and temporal of influence i. There are Scandinavian sources, international folkloric sources, and Celtic sources.
But Scandinavian works have continued to be studied as a possible source. The Shorter Tenth Edition is more flexible, helpful, and innovative than ever, with new albums of thematically linked pieces,.
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