1147Re: New Beowulf
- Feb 29, 2000"David S. Bratman" wrote:
>Well, it depends on what you mean by "like Beowulf." OE literature
> From: "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@...>
> On Mon, 28 Feb 2000, Lisa Deutsch Harrigan wrote:
> > Since this one has done so well in England, may be they will translate some of
> > the other Old Stories? I'd like to see them too.
> The sad fact is that there's nothing else like Beowulf in Old English
> literature, and we almost didn't have Beowulf, either: it survives in a
> single manuscript of unknown provenance, which almost burned in a fire
> some 400-500 years ago, long before it was adequately transcribed.
contains many great work, some short and some long. Beowulf is sui
generis in terms of its matter; that is, aside from the one surviving
manuscript of Beowulf, there are no other stories of Beowulf the Geat.
We do have, at the very least, other references to such great Germanic
heroes and characters as Siegfried and Sigemund, Attila and Gudrun,
Welund and Walter, Finn and Hengist; but there's only one story that
mentions Beowulf. BTW, the Beowulf manuscript was damaged in the great
fire in 1731 at Ashburnam House, and other manuscripts were destroyed
and/or nearly destroyed. One of the current projects at the British
LIbrary is to recover the texts--via UV photography with a Kontron
camera--contained in some of those burnt mss.
> There probably were other great Old English epics that _didn't_ survive,Well, England did have its own cycle: the Arthurian cycle. (I know that
> of which we have only tiny surviving hints: Wayland the Smith, for
> instance. It was because the English didn't have an Edda, or a
> Nibelungenlied, or an Odyssey or Aeneid, or a Charlemagne cycle, that
> Tolkien decided to make one up on his own.
some/much of the Arthurian material comes from France.) Beowulf is
England's Nibelungenlied, and it antedates the Nibelungenlied by at
least 175 years. The Brut by Layamon could easily be viewed as England's
Odyssey or Aeneid, especially the latter (since it kind of takes up
where the Aeneid stops).
>Actually, the Norman Conquest is only partially responsible; the main
> (As for why the English are so bereft, that permits of a three-word
> oversimpliciation for an answer: the Norman Conquest.)
culprits, really, are the Vikings and Henry VIII. When the Vikings began
invading in the late 8th century, they sacked and destroyed monasteries
and the monastic libraries. It's a miracle that the two greatest OE
manuscripts, The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, still
survive. In 1536/38 Henry dissolved the monasteries and confiscated
them; one of the results was the dispersal of many of the monastic
libraries as well as the destruction of the monasteries and their
medieval sculptures and stained-glass windows. That's why the Ruthwell
Cross--which contains a 7th-8th century runic inscription of portions of
the great OE elegy "The Dream of the Rood"--is broken and the
inscription so weather damaged. The reformers, following Henry, cast
down the cross and left it to weather away. It wasn't until the 19th
century that it was put back together (though with part missing) and
placed in a chapel.
Another BTW: the English don't really value Beowulf as much as the press
might lead one to believe. In the past few decades Beowulf and other
areas of Anglo-Saxon culture (as in the culture in Britain from c.
450-1066) have gradually been removed from the curriculum, so that now
relatively few students actually study Beowulf. Also, for the Whitbread
Prize, which Heaney's translation won, the vote was split: five judges
voted for Beowulf and four for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of
Azkhaban. Two different versions of Heaney's Beowulf are now available
in the US: a straight translation as well as a copy with Beowulf in OE
and Heaney's translation on facing pages.
Dr. Theodore James Sherman
Department of English, Box X041
College of Liberal Arts
Middle Tennessee State University
Murfreesboro, TN 37130
615 898-5836; FAX 615 898-5098
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