I remember reading Beowulf in high school, or at least parts of it, but didn’t remember much about it.  After just finishing it, I have to say that hanging out in mead-halls and fighting monsters doesn’t seem to be a bad way to live life.  I probably read this too fast and should have read more of the commentary that came with it.  While the translation by Seamus Heaney was good and easy to understand I sometimes thought something got lost.  I can’t really point to anything in particular – just a gut feeling.  The edition I had was illustrated with beautiful photographs of weapons, landscapes, paintings of monsters and other items that gave additional insight to the poem.


There’s a quote by G. K. Chesterton that I’ve always enjoyed that says:

I don’t deny…that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die.  I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.

I think the author of Beowulf could have been both priest and poet.  The poem blends perfectly God’s Providence with Man’s might -or perhaps I could say man’s “free will” but that could be stretching it – and who wants to get all theological about a story with monsters, anyway?  And while death lurks around every corner, the warriors face it head on and won’t go down without a fight.

I think the next epic poem I read might be Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.  But I’ll read it a little slower – I’ll take it a pilgrim at a time.


9 responses to “Beowulf

  1. Pingback: Barthauer: Beowulf

  2. Good stuff!
    I really enjoyed the Burton Raffel translation, especially while sitting outside on a nice day. It can be important to get an old story like this as close as possible to the exciting way that it would have been heard around a fire centuries ago. Super-accurate academic translations have their place, but I want to get lost in the adventure. I’ve been wanting to read the Stephen Mitchell translation of The Iliad for that reason.
    Glad you read Beowulf and liked it. Always glad to see Chesterton too 🙂

    • Ben,
      This is a great story in which to get lost in the adventure! Great idea to read it outside, too. At some point, I think I’d like reading through it at a slower pace. I read the Illiad and the Odyssey before I started blogging and it was a great experience!

  3. Hi Dale,
    I think I was probably too young to read Beowulf the first time I read it. All I remembered was something about him having a very strong “grip.” 🙂 Later, in college we covered it again in much deeper context, and I appreciated it more. I avoided the relatively recent movie adaptation. Did you see it?

    I’m almost done with my Iliad re-read. I have really been enjoying it. I hope to get to The Odyssey and The Aeneid this year too.

    Great quotation from Chesteron.


    • Jay,
      I did not see the recent movie adaptation. I never heard a lot about it, but for some reason it just didn’t seem very appealing. The Illiad and the Odyssey were great – some time I’d like to go through all of these at a slower pace.

  4. Beowulf is one of my favourites! I’ve read it 4 times now and each time get more out of it. I really like your connection between the poet and the priest. I think the author certainly showed Beowulf as a new man, a stepping stone between the old blood feud society and a new Christian era.

    I heard on the Classical Club that there may be a read-along of The Canterbury Tales in April but nothing official yet.

    • I enjoyed Beowulf and I imagine reading it a few more times would make me appreciate it even more. I hope the Canterbury Tales happens in April. That would fit perfectly into my reading “schedule”.

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