Three things I liked about this book:

  1. The translator’s preamble, which both accurately called me out as a “person whose only experience with Beowulf was a stilted translation delivered in a high-school English class” (I’m paraphrasing, but the spirit is there) and delivered in wonderful prose a rallying cry for why Beowulf, and epics in general, are worth reading.
  2. The prose itself! It is delightful to listen to. I think there was a bit of concern that the translation — featuring “bro”, “swole”, “fucked up”, and more neologisms — was going to be a bit dated-by-design, but it was wonderful, rhythmic and modern and mellifluous.
  3. The substance of the book itself (of course buoyed by the first two points):
    1. One thing similar to the Greek epics: the emphasis on storytelling (which, duh, epic poem, oral tradition, yadda yadda yadda). There’s more discussion about having fought things than actual fighting; there’s more boasting than proving of boasts; there’s more memory of good kings than actions of good kings.
    2. One thing different (and, in retrospect, very similar to the Poem of the Cid which I did not exactly love) — the emphasis on fealty to king and kingdom. You don’t really notice it as much — except maybe in the Iliad, but that’s different — but the only fealty in the Greek epics are to gods, and yet in Beowulf (and, again, The Cid) there’s this strange power dynamic of the glorious warrior’s subservience to their majesty.

Anyway, this book was fun. I think As An Epic it still pales in comparison to the Iliad or the Odyssey, but the translation is delightful and it gave me much to think about.

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