As of January 2005

Professor Chickering has commented on the lines you will be translating. His comments can be found at the end of his dual-language edition in DuBois.

Fontes Anglo-Saxonici is here. An on-line database of sources of Old English.
Sean Crist's Bosworth-Toller and others is here.
The Labyrinth, resources for medieval studies is here.

7.I.05. Problem downloading the Wessex font? Fuggedaboutit. Newer browsers should be able to read the newly installed OE letters fine.

11.I.05 Translate as many lines as you can. HINTS: Remember what we discussed in class:

  1. Find the clause boundary (semicolon or period).
  2. Find words you know (pronouns, articles, etc.)
  3. Isolate endings, and find words without typical endings: possible subjects?
  4. To the dictionary: get meanings
  5. To the chart: get syntactic information
  6. Get poetic.

4.III.05 First Paper Topics. Paper is 5-7 pages or longer--satisfy the demands of the topic, not the length. This is an explorative paper meant to exercise your mind in anticipation of the final paper. (It will be graded accordingly.) Graduate students, please discuss relevant secondary sources.

1. Analogues and Sources

A. How does Beowulf compare to one of the sagas we have read? Choose an element of plot, character, or style. For example, both the Volsungsaga and Beowulf describe the pursuit of a hoard of gold; how do the tales compare in their treatment of wealth? Other examples might be songs, tales, armor, magic, and so forth. (Grads, describe one motif or element and its cultural/traditional significance. Discuss its relevance to the poem.)

B. Why is the Finnsburh episode placed where it is placed? What does it contribute to our understanding of that moment in Heorot?

C. Heorot is named after a hart. Christian tradition says the white hart is the enemy of snakes (and dragons) and represents Christ. Norse tradition suggests other representations. What is the significance of the name of the Hall in Norse and Christian tradition? How does that contribute to our appreciation of Beowulf?

2. Oral Formulaic

A. Contemporary readers value an author's artistry insofar as it is somehow unique. Ruminate on the ramifications of an oral poem whose formulae are age-old. Is our valuation of a poet's unique artistry merely displaced to an author called "tradition"? Or displaced to the uniqueness of his/her organization of formulae? Why is uniqueness aesthetically valuable?

B. Recurrent images, lines, and words tie together sections of the poem. What is the effect of that constant self-reference on the reader/auditor? How does it shape our understanding of the poem? Speak to these questions by isolating one or two formulae (e.g., þæt wæs god cyning).

C. How does the recurrence of formulae compromise our sense of character in this poem? If certain men and women are characterized by long-standing formulae, are their characters also of long-standing? Agree or disagree and explain.

3. Big Themes

A. Transience: things pass away, all is impermanent. Describe Beowulf's contribution to or qualification of this theme.

B. Diplomacy and Violence: peace is unstable without the threat of war. Discuss Beowulf in light of the contrast between the art of peace weaving and the call to juridical violence (i.e., an eye for an eye). Consider Wealþeow, Grendel's mother, Hildeburh, or other similarly grouped characters.

C. Kingship: what is a good king? Consider kings throughout the poem. Consider, also, that the dragon rules a hall, sits on treasure, and is feared. Compare to kings and queens of the sagas (and/or of Christian tradition).

D. Monsters. Grendel is the kin of Cain, and thus ultimately human. How does this tidbit affect our understanding of the role of monsters in this poem? What is the role of monsters in this poem?

4. Literary Criticism

A. Close Reading. Choose a passage of ten lines or so and describe the poem's artistry. Explain how this passage and the implications of your translation speak to some of the larger ideas at issue in the poem.

B. Feminism. How would you read this poem differently if you knew it had been written by a woman? Or if you knew the manuscript had been owned by a woman? Discuss some implications.

C. Philology. There are significant points in the poem which depend upon our translation of syððan. One is at 6b. Describe how this word functions in the poem with respect to time and fate.

D. Philology 2. The term maþelode is used to introduce speeches. How does it compare to secgan and other similar terms? What can we infer from the use of these terms about the role of speech in Beowulf?

5. Your own topic. Please discuss with me before embarking.