Anonymous, Medieval Literature, Poems, Poetry

Review of Beowulf

beowulfWhat is it about?

Here is what Goodreads has to say about Beowulf:

Beowulf is the greatest surviving work of literature in Old English, unparalleled in its epic grandeur and scope. It tells the story of the heroic Beowulf and of his battles, first with the monster Grendel, who has laid waste to the great hall of the Danish king Hrothgar, then with Grendel’s avenging mother, and finally with a dragon that threatens to devastate his homeland. Through its blend of myth and history, Beowulf vividly evokes a twilight world in which men and supernatural forces live side by side. And it celebrates the endurance of the human spirit in a transient world.”

What did I think about it?

Beowulf is an amazing warrior. He is fearless and powerful. Originally from the Kingdom of the Geats, Beowulf arrives at the Danish King Hrothgar’s mead house, Heoroth, one morning to defeat Grendel who has terrorized Hrothgar’s men for years. Beowulf helps Hrothgar because the latter helped end a feud between Beowulf’s father and the Wylfings.

My favorite character in the poem was Hrothgar because he is so kind and wise. He imparts fatherly wisdom to the young Beowulf, and is very generous in his gift giving. He sets a fantastic example for Beowulf to follow. In fact, in many passages, Hrothgar is described in the same biblical language used to describe Jesus.

I read the Penguin Classics version of Beowulf, translated by Michael Alexander (2003). I thought the translation was beautiful and the notes at the back of the text were very helpful in understanding the history of the relationship between the Geats and the Danes. Major themes in the poem are the inevitability of death and the virtue of generosity.

Favorite Quote

[Hrothgar to Beowulf]: “Learn from this, Beowulf:/study openhandedness! It is for your ears that I relate/this,/and I am old in winters” [1720-1722].



6 thoughts on “Review of Beowulf”

  1. I’m making a note of the version you read. Bauer suggests the Seams Heaney translation (A New Verse Translation, 2001). I’ll have to take a look at them when it is time to read them. I just love the story of Beowulf, having read several children’s versions to my kids. It’s exciting to think someday I may be able to read something closer to the original.

  2. I’ll have to take a look at this translation. I read the Seamus Heaney version and it is a favourite. Very grand and majestic.

    I was particularly struck by the fact that Beowulf was a new hero. Coming out of the pagan blood-feud society, he showed bravery and loyalty but also temperance and forgiveness, unusual for that time. I think this shows in a very real way, the advent of Christianity during this time. Tolkien has a great essay on Beowulf, The Monster and the Critics. It’s worth reading if you have the time.

    1. I have heard of Tolkien’s essay. I would love to read it! I bought Beowulf my university bookstore and they only had the Alexander version. Comparing translations would be an interesting project.

  3. Tolkien’s essay is great, I think it was one of the first to encourage people to study ‘Beowulf’ as more than just a poor cousin to the Norse Eddas and Greek epics.

    The monsters in the poem were one of the things that fascinated me most. Grendel’s mother is particularly interesting; there’s a lot of great feminist literature about her.

    I have to add that I read the Heaney version, because it is just incredible. I’d like to read the Alexander version to see how it compares, but Heaney’s is wonderful. 🙂

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