“Famed was this Beowulf: far flew the boast of him, son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands…” Prologue, Beowulf.
I have to confess that I have absolutely no recollection of having ever read Beowulf, though I suspect I must have done at some point during my undergraduate studies (although that was, in fairness, over a hundred years ago), but after discussion with my academic supervisor and following feedback from my first essay, we decided that my second essay should focus specifically on two important and well-known digital humanities projects: the Electronic Beowulf, and the Digital Chaucer.
Those of you who have read this blog before will have noticed a preponderance of Chaucer flavoured material, and should know (or have guessed) that my PhD research is focused on the Digital Chaucer project. Beowulf, however, in any of its incarnations (manuscript, Seamus Heaney-edited or electronic) is pretty much unknown to me. I am therefore currently ensconced in the National Library of Wales reading Kevin Kiernan’s excellent Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript, which details his research in attempting to determine a date for the epic poem and also an author.
Kiernan basically posits that, rather than the manuscript being a written version of an old oral poem, the poem was actually compiled in the main at the time of writing, by the second scribe who worked on the manuscript. The controversy of Kiernan’s research still resonates in Old English studies today, and is fascinating (although the book itself is highly technical, and unless you have a working knowledge of scribal handwriting – which I don’t, yet! – it can seem quite daunting).
It is, in the main, a very good read, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is reading Beowulf or has any interest in the history of a piece of literature.
And now, back to my reading.