Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beowulf - Seamus Heaney



Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 213
Reason for Reading : Book Awards Reading Challenge, recommendation by my best friend

The oldest English poem composed between the middle of the seventh century and the end of the tenth century in the first millenium. It was written in Anglo-Saxon or Old English and describes events in Scandinavia. The version I have is the bilingual edition showing the Anglo-Saxon version alongside this translation by Seamus Heaney.

Warrior Beowulf sails to Denmark to help Prince Hrothgar whose people are being beset by the monsterous Grendel. He is descended from Cain from the Old Testament making him part demon with much strength. Beowulf defeats Grendel by ripping his arm off at the shoulder causing him a mortal wound. After they celebrate their victory, Grendel's mother bursts onto the scene to seek vengence for her son. Beowulf again fights her and again defeats her in an under water battle.

After Beowulf and his men are rewarded by Hrothgar they sail home again. Beowulf's uncle Hygelac is King and Beowulf gives him a gift of many of the rewards he recieved. There is no petty squabbling between the two warriors and no double dealing and treachery. In time Beowulf becomes King after Hygelac is killed in battle and his son Headred is killed for double dealing. A dragon is mistakenly awoken by a thief stealing a cup from his treasure Horde. Beowulf goes to fight it, knowing it will be his last battle. All of his men run away from the dragon apart from Wiglaf (son of Weohstan) who stays and aids his master in this last battle.

Although Beowulf is boastful and arrogant, he lives his life with valour. His death will see many of the old battles rekindled without someone in his place to keep the peace. I definitely recommend this poem. It was really interesting to see it alongside the Anglo-Saxon and see if I could pick out any of the words (sadly not many!). This is an excellent translation which keeps the spirit of the original poem, but somehow brings it up to date.

10 comments:

3M said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the audio of this version. Heaney reads it himself and it's outstanding.

Chris said...

I read this same translation and thought that it was perfect! Whenever I hear that someone is reading Beowulf now I make sure that the buy the Heaney version ;)

Literary Feline said...

I was in high school when I read this many many years ago and it made an impression on me. I liked it quite a bit. I haven't seen the recent movie version and am not sure I want to, but maybe. I enjoyed very much reading your review, Rhinoa. It really brought the story back for me.

Rhinoa said...

3M - Cool I will look out for that thanks.

Chris - I remember reading your review and getting excited about finally getting around to reading my copy. My best friend recommended this version to me a few years ago.

Wendy - I haven't seen the movie either and doubt I will. This is the only version I have read but might check out some of the other translations.

Kim L said...

I read part of this book for a class, but I never finished it. Maybe I need to get this translation, because I remember struggling with trying to decipher the old english in the version we were reading.

Anyhow, thanks for a great review!

Stephanie said...

One of these days, I really have to read this! I can't believe I haven't yet.

Nymeth said...

I really need to make sure I finally read this this year. I'll definitely go for this translation!

Ladytink_534 said...

Oh wow you're brave! My English teacher made us read this when I was in high school. I wasn't impressed.

Rhinoa said...

Kim and Ladytink - Hmm perhaps it's a forced into reading it thing that put you both off? I know that's what put me off Romeo and Juliet, I just can't like that play whilst really liking some of his others.

Stephenie - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when you get around to it.

Nymeth - I am pretty sure you will really enjoy it. It's where Tolkien got a lot of his ideas from and if you enjoyed Gilgamesh I am pretty sure you will enjoy this too.

Elena said...

The Heaney translation is good, but I prefer the one by Chickering. It's a little more formal and preserves the alliteration and the poetry structure from the Old English a bit better.