Beowulf Fact Sheet – Introduction to Literature English

published in: Legend & Myth Literature // Literature

Beowulf Fact Sheet - Introduction to Literature English
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Beowulf is generally described as an epic, which is a long narrative poem about the deeds of heroes and warriors. Epics generally blend myth, legend, …

Introduction to Literature English 202.9 Spring 2003 Beowulf Fact Sheet
Manuscript Beowulf is in MS Cotton Vitellius A.xv, which is held by the British Library. The manuscript is a compilation of five works, all in Old English, and none of which are original compositions. Textual evidence shows that even Beowulf, for which we have no other existing text, was copied, not composed by the scribes who made this manuscript. MS Cotton Vitellius A.xv contains a fragmented prose homily on St. Christopher’s life, translations of the Latin prose works The Wonders of the East and Letter of Alexander to Aristotle, Beowulf, and the fragmented poem based upon the apocryphal Old Testament Judith. The one thing all these texts seem to have in common is an interest in the marvelous. Two scribes worked on the manuscript. The first scribe stopped copying somewhere near the middle of Beowulf and the second scribe finished the compilation off. The manuscript dates to c. 1000 C.E. and was almost certainly created in a monastery or other type of religious house. Two different people glossed a few words in The Wonders of the East into Middle English. Lawrence Nowell, a Sixteenth-century antiquarian signed his name in the manuscript in 1563. At some point, Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631) acquired the manuscript, and it was damaged in the fire of Cotton’s library in 1731. It eventually made it’s way to the British Library. Language Simply put, Beowulf is written in Old English, which is the language of Angl0-Saxon England. Old English, the earliest form of English, is a Western Germanic language. Old English makes use of unfamiliar letters, which derive from the runic alphabet. They are "thorn" (th sound found in think), "eth" (th sound found in thick), æ "ash" (vowel sound in cat), and "yogh" (g/y sound as in gun and yet). Another character, the "wyn," which represents "w," is rarely used in modern texts. If you look at a picture of the first page of Beowulf, you can see two capital wyns in the first line. They are the second and fifth letters: "H[ wyn]ÆT {wyn]E GARDE." As with most Anglo-Saxon poetry, Beowulf’s dialect is late West Saxon dialect. However, it contains early West Saxon and non-West Saxon (mainly Anglican) features. Since scribes often copied manuscripts into their own dialects, this mix of dialects does little to help us locate the origins of the poem.

Spring 2003 / English 202.9 / Beofaq / 1



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