Monday, August 30, 2010

Beowulf Mini-Lecture

Just as a little test of things to come, here's my Beowulf mini-lecture I'm using for my online course.


  1. Feh. Whether it works or not, the thumbnail makes me look like I'm in the middle of a song & dance routine.

  2. This was interesting, even without the song & dance you promised. Thanks for posting!

  3. Anonymous3:47 PM

    That's interesting, if only half-screened for me. I'm actually starting Beowulf with my Early Brit survey kids tomorrow. The tack I take is more a look at the mythic aspects of it (Hey, I'm a Frygean -- so sue me) and the idea of the Christian critique of/elegy for these Viking types.

    I'd be interested in knowing what you think of Kevin Kiernan's argument that the second scribe may have been the Beowulf poet himself. Obviously you don't necessarily buy that, but why not?

  4. I don't buy it for a couple of reasons -- or rather, let me just say his claim is unprovable. So far as I can see, it rests on two pillars: erasures and the wundnum/wundini/wundmi reading. Erasures are for me a non-issue; it just shows that the scribe was, well, a scribe. As for the wundnum/wundini/wundmi issue, and where Kiernan sees wundmi, I just don't see that in those five minims. I've stared at the image, practically *willing* myself to see it, yet I can't see it there.

    Aside from all that, even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the second scribe was composing as he wrote -- well, so what? The text in the Monstrarum Librum is likely cobbled together from more than one source, so we certainly have parts of Beowulf that were orally transmitted way back shortly after the historic Hrothgar lived, and some composed in Old English -- perhaps in various centuries. One part might come from the 9th century, another from the 11th, etc. In other words, I think the argument (not just Kiernan's) rests on a romantic notion of author authorship that doesn't necessarily reflect the reality of the poem.

    That being said, my above speculations are also probably unprovable -- hence me saying the text is "mysterious."

  5. Anonymous12:25 AM

    We shouldn't make the text out to be more mysterious than it really is. Scribe B most certainly is not the author, as Michael Lapidge's article "The Archetype of Beowulf" proves beyond a shadow of a doubt. Lapidge's study makes a strong case for an eighth century (c.750) date of composition, and R.D. Fulk's study of the poem's language makes this all the more probable. To argue for a date of composition after 850 involves extreme improbabilities - we need not pretend that such arguments are equally valid because equally unprovable. Anglo-Saxon scholars have helped us learn much about the language and history of this period, and we need not ignore what we know on account of those things we do not know.

    P.S. Good job with the lecture. I enjoyed listening to it.

  6. Oh, yes, and FYI -- I don't know how to stop it from doing the half-screen, but if you start it and put your cursor over the screen, the link to the full-screen version on comes up.

  7. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Thanks, folks; this is why I regret not being able to get K'zoo very often.

  8. That was great Scott, I look forward to other lecture posts! Any idea is the "Book of Monsters" you mentioned is still around and translated? I'd love to get my mitts on that.

  9. The "Book of Monsters" is a nickname for Cotton Vitellius A.xv, or the Beowulf manuscript. Kiernan has a nice website with the manuscript images!

    Scroll down and check out the Nowell Codex section to see the other texts in there with Beowulf.