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The Dating of Beowulf

The Dating of Beowulf

edited by COLIN CHASE
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 230
  • Book Info
    The Dating of Beowulf
    Book Description:

    The date of Beowulf, debated for almost a century, is a small question with large ramifications. This collection of essays by leading scholars has become a standard reference for scholarship in the area.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5751-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. editor’s preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. abbreviations
    (pp. viii-x)

    • opinions on the date of beowulf, 1815-1980
      (pp. 3-8)

      The earliest published opinion as to the date ofBeowulfis implied in the title of itseditio princeps, printed in 1815: ‘A Danish Poem in Anglo-Saxon Dialect Concerning Danish Events of the Third and Fourth Centuries.’ Thorkelin was not arguing that the poem was composed in the fourth century, but he clearly envisaged a date shortly thereafter, ‘for in this work we have abundant sources from which an understanding of our people’s religion and poetry can be gleaned as well as a narrative of their activities in the third and fourth centuries.’¹ Objections were not long in coming. Nicolaus...

    • the eleventh-century origin of beowulf and the beowulf manuscript
      (pp. 9-22)

      Until now no one has investigated the possibility thatBeowulfwas composed at the time of its only surviving manuscript. Indeed, since the inauguration ofBeowulfstudies in the early nineteenth century, scholars have shown surprisingly little interest in the uniqueBeowulfmanuscript.¹ Facsimiles have been available for the past century, seemingly belying this assertion, but to a large extent they have only impeded a real understanding of the manuscript.² They are surely unreliable, if not actually worthless, as primary sources for detailed palaeographical and codicological research. The curious neglect of theBeowulfmanuscript is owing not so much to...

    • the nowell codex and the poem of beowulf
      (pp. 23-32)

      MS. Cotton Vitellius A. XV in the British Library is a volume made up of two distinct codices, the second and earlier of which (folios 94-209 of the whole volume) is known today as the ‘Nowell’ Codex, after its first known owner, the antiquary Laurence Nowell, to whom it belonged in 1563. It contains three pieces of Old English prose (a homily, now acephalous, on St. Christopher, 94-98r; an illustratedWonders of the East, 98v-106; a ‘letter’ of Alexander the Great to Aristotle, 107-131), and two stretches of alliterative verse:Beowulf(132-201) andJudith(202-209, but deficient at both beginning...

    • a reconsideration of the language of beowulf
      (pp. 33-76)

      Although language is only one kind of evidence which can be used in ascertaining where and when a text was composed, it is an important one. Nevertheless, in the case ofBeowulf, the confidence of scholars in the value of linguistic evidence has ranged from a high point at the beginning of this century when Eugen Einenkel could study methods of expressing verbal negation ‘with the gratifying result of establishingBeowulfas an Anglian poem of about 725 AD.’,¹ to a present low when Nicolas Jacobs assumes that ‘the linguistic evidence is tenuous in the extreme’ and proceeds to discuss...

    • metrical style as evidence for the date of beowulf
      (pp. 77-82)

      In late Old English and early Middle English alliterative poetry, certain features of metrical style correspond clearly with the dates of the poems independent of the stylistic proclivities of the individual authors. One can follow J.P. Oakden, for example, in tracing a diminution in the occurrence of Sievers’ metrical types D and E, and a marked increase in the occurrence of the ‘rising-falling’ or B/A type.¹ The B/A pattern$(\text{x }\underline{\text{/}}\text{ x }\underline{\text{/}}\text{ x})$, which was either disallowed or severely restricted in classical Old English metre, eventually became the single most frequent type in Middle English alliterative poetry. Since it is possible to...

    • hetware and hugas: datable anachronisms in beowulf
      (pp. 83-100)

      The account inBeowulfof Hygelac’s fatal raid on the Merovingian kingdom features four names of continental peoples: Franks, Frisians, Hetware, and Hugas.¹ Of these, the Franks and Frisians are well known to history, whereas the name ‘Hetware’ is uncommon to say the least, and ‘Hugas’ is extremely obscure. Some scholars have maintained that the Hetware descend from the ancient Chatti and Chattuarii and that the Hugas are connected to the equally ancient Chauci, but neither identification can be adequately justified.²Beowulfis not the only place where these rare names are mentioned. A Prankish history written in the early...

    • beowulf, the danish invasions, and royal genealogy
      (pp. 101-112)

      InThe Audience of Beowulf, Dorothy Whitelock rightly reminded students ofBeowulfthat to date the poem it is not enough to demonstrate that it fits into a particular historical context without exploring the suitability of other contexts.¹ That such an obvious point needs to be made is symptomatic of the reluctance to look outside the age of Bede.² A number of factors account for this reluctance, but behind the scholarly reasons for an early date, and behind the richness of sources for the age of Bede which makes a case possible, the traditional dating of ca. 700 also rests...

    • the audience of beowulf and the vikings
      (pp. 113-122)
      R.I. PAGE

      Professor Whitelock argues most cogently for puttingBeowulfbefore the viking age. She writes: ‘The poem is surely pre-Viking Age. It may be true that we should not attach an exaggerated importance to the high terms of praise and respect with which the poet speaks of the Danes and their rulers …. Yet, I doubt whether he would have spoken in these terms during the Viking Age, or whether his audience would have given him a patient hearing if he had. It is not how men like to hear the people described who are burning their homes, pillaging their churches,...

    • skaldic verse and the date of beowulf
      (pp. 123-140)

      When after one hundred and fifty years of speculation we have reached no certainty regarding the date ofBeowulf, certainty may not be attainable. Still, there is always the chance that one’s own peculiar perspective may suggest new lines of inquiry, add something, however minuscule, to the small kernel of evidence that is safe to regard as the established fact ofBeowulfscholarship. This kernel is even smaller today than it was thirty years ago when Dorothy Whitelock advanced theterminus ad quemofBeowulffrom 750 to 825, halting before the viking incursions of mid-century. She cited ‘the high...

    • variation in beowulf and the poetic edda: a chronological experiment
      (pp. 141-160)
      R.W. McTURK

      In his article ‘The Old English Epic Style,’ published in 1962, Alistair Campbell maintains that ‘the new epic style was developed from that of the lays,’ and that ‘it was … probably the elaborate development of the art of parallelism that distinguished most clearly the new style from the old.’¹ He does not define ‘the art of parallelism,’ but his examples suggest that parallelism as he sees it differs little from variation as defined by Walther Paetzel, to whose study of the subject, dating from 1913,² Campbell does not refer in his article. It is also clear from his examples...

    • saints’ lives, royal lives, and the date of beowulf
      (pp. 161-172)

      Our successors, I believe, will say that twentieth-centuryBeowulfcriticism was more constantly and consistently divided over the poem’s emotional intent than over anything else. ‘Celebration’ would describe the oldest strain of criticism, from W.P. Ker, through W.W. Lawrence, Kemp Malone, Norman Garmonsway, and until very recently the school of oral-formulaists:¹ ‘The poem is intended to celebrate an heroic ideal embodied in the person of Beowulf and in his lifelong struggle.’ ‘Lamentation’ said others, ambiguously J.R.R. Tolkien, but explicitly John Leyerle, Eamon Carrigan, John Halverson, Margaret Goldsmith, Harry Berger, Jr. and H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., and James Smith:² ‘The poem...

    • style as the criterion for dating the composition of beowulf
      (pp. 173-186)

      At the heart of any attempt to date the composition ofBeowulflies the poem itself—the kind of poetry it is. Yet to many it seems like a sleeping monster they would prefer not to disturb. To tackle it, they think, would be to give battle to a fiery dragon with only the puny weapon of subjective impression to wield. Much better, they say, to keep stalking round it at a distance with one’s eyes on extraneous objects. But they do so at their peril. The poem remains a primary force to be reckoned with. Any inference which has...

    • on the date of composition of beowulf
      (pp. 187-196)
      JOHN C. POPE

      Dating the composition ofBeowulfmay prove to be an enterprise of that endlessly inconclusive sort that Milton allotted to the philosophers among his fallen angels. In face of so many unknowns we can hope at most to agree upon broad limits, and to treat these limits as only reasonable probabilities. Of course the date of the manuscript provides a limit close to the year 1000, but the manuscript is manifestly at some remove from the original, and few students of both poem and period will believe that the date of the manuscript is close enough to the date of...

    • the date of beowulf: some doubts and no conclusions
      (pp. 197-212)
      E.G. STANLEY

      The greater the distance between the date of theBeowulfmanuscript — ‘s. X/XI’ by palaeo graphical dating¹ — and the posited date of the poem as we now have it, the heavier the element of hypothesis. We may go further than that, into the predilections of medievalists: we like things to be genuinely old. There is some spurious linguistic antiquity in medieval English — the Proclamation of Henry III,² for example, or the rhyming charters,³ as all will acknowledge; and La3amon’sBrut, as I think⁴ — butBeowulfdoes not seem in any way spurious to me. The language...

  6. AFTERWORD: The Uses of Uncertainty: On the Dating of Beowulf
    (pp. 213-220)

    Reading letters by nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets can be very disturbing to Anglo-Saxonists, for they are filled with exactly the information we long to know – and despair of ever discovering – about Old English poems: who wrote them, and when, and where, and even perhaps, why they did so. Take, for example, something as banal as the short letter and accompanying list sent by Wallace Stevens to his publisher Alfred A. Knopf on 16 October 1930 from Hartford, Connecticut. The letter reads in full: ‘You wrote to me in the spring about re-printing Harmonium. I hand you such new...

  7. index
    (pp. 221-228)