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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Beowulf - An Ancient Epic

 Never heard of Beowulf? Who is he and what is this all about? Check it out for an epic dose of adventure and courage!


Beowulf - An Ancient Epic translated by Seamus Heaney

Grade level & category: 

Grades 10-adult; A good AP choice; British Literature; Setting: 6th Century Scandanavia; This translation is a New York Times Bestseller. Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award.


Defeating evil, death, courage, warriors, heroism, Christianity, fate, humanity, leadership, wealth & materialism.

Author biography: 

 Seamus Heaney (April 13, 1939 – August 30, 2013) was an Irish poet, playwright, translator, lecturer, and teacher. He grew up and lived in Dublin, Ireland. In the early 1960s, he became a lecturer in Belfast after attending university there and began to publish poetry.
Heaney was a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997 and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994 he was also the Professor of Poetry at Oxford  and in 1996 was made a  Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His awards include:

Book summary: 

Beowulf is the first great English, Anglo-Saxon, literary epic, chronicling a hero's exploits as Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian clans teeter between Christianity and the old religions.  A monster, Grendel, has descended on Heorot, mead hall of King Hrothgar, Bringing death and chaos for 12 years. Beowulf, hero of the Geats, travels to the land of the Danes to free them from Grendel's grasp. With boldness and God's help, Beowulf defeats Grendel and Grendel's mother when she comes seeking vengeance. Finally, at the end of a long reign as king of the Geats, Beowulf faces a dragon to save his people once again and burn his name into the pages of history.
This New York Times Bestseller was seen as ground-breaking in its use of modern language melded with the original Anglo-Saxon 'music'. "Accomplish[es] what before now had seemed impossible: a faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right." –New York Times Book Review

Other books you might love if you love this one: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Tower by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green, Grendel by John Gardner, The History of the Kings of Britain  by Geoffrey of Monmouth & Lewis Thorpe (translator), Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table by Thomas Malory, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Song of Roland -anonymous, Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell, The Iliad by Homer, The Odyssey by Homer.
About 90 years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien translated the 11th-century Old English epic poem "Beowulf" and then put it on the shelf. It remained there unpublished -- until now. For the first time ever, Christopher Tolkien will release his father’s translation of the tale. It will be published as a book titled Beowulf: A Translation And Commentary and will include lectures J.R.R. Tolkien gave on the poem. HarperCollins will release the translation May 22, 2014.

To talk about: 

The main plot of Beowulf can be told fairly simply and straightforwardly, but the poet chooses to tell his tale expansively and elaborately, incorporating a number of other stories or "digressions." Why, do you think, does the poet take this route? How do these digressions contribute to a greater understanding of Beowulf's own story? Is Beowulf a traditional hero with positive qualities that bring him through or is he a tragic hero who possesses a character flaw that ultimately brings him down at the end?
Idea: Keep a journal as you read this epic, noting the poem's references to fate and to God. Then discuss whether the God Beowulf refers to is the same God of scripture. Most scholars believe that the author of Beowulf was Christian—but is it a "Christian poem"?
How does how we deal with death as Christians compare with how those in the novel dealt with death?

My favorite quote from the Book:

(As Beowulf lies dying after defeating the dragon)
"To the everlasting Lord of All, to the King of Glory, I give thanks that I beheld this treasure here in front of me, that I have been allowed to leave my people so well endowed on the day I die. Now that I have bartered my last breath to own this fortune, it is up to you to look after their needs."

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