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Beowulf : Poem, Poet and Hero

Heather (University of Oxford, UK) O’Donoghue
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (Bloomsbury Academic)
Published: June 13, 2024
ISBN: 9781788312882
192 pages
Country of publication: United Kingdom


The Old English epic poem Beowulf has an established reputation as a canonical text. And yet the original poem has remained inaccessible to all but experienced scholars of Old English. This book aims to present the poem to readers who want to know what makes it such a remarkable work of art, and why it is of such cultural significance.

Most readers will only have encountered the poem through one of its many translations or adaptations; others have had to take it on as a translation exercise, a unique and challenging survivor from a long-gone era. This book sidesteps academic debates about the poem’s unknowns – its date, provenance or author – and focusses instead on its poetic artistry, its interleaving of heroic pasts and Christian present, and its poet’s extraordinary breadth of reference, from biblical history to Old Norse myth. The strange intricacies of Old English metre and poetic language are explained, and the poet’s evocation of the ethics and material world of an imagined pre-Viking Scandinavia is explored.

Beowulf: Poem, Poet and Hero follows the story of the poem through its many interwoven voices from different times and places, and the poem emerges as a work of reflective beauty, its human characters full of touching pathos and wisdom, its notorious monsters still speaking to our own societies’ abiding insecurities. The final section, on post-medieval responses to Beowulf, shows how the poem has been taken up as a European cultural icon. This book restores its status as a literary masterpiece.

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