Beowulf Online

First, the poem itself  does need some introduction. Although there was a movie that borrowed the title and some character names, said film was not in actuality anywhere close to the poem.

The Best Edition and Translation for Serious Students: Beowulf on Steorarume

This online text includes side-by-side Old English and modern translation, and a diplomatic Old English only version. The translation is more faithful to the original syntax and style than many which is why I like it. The site includes a glossary to the Old English, an Introduction to the text, supplemental readings from related texts, bibliography, and explanatory notes with the text. Admittedly, the ads and prominent ‘donate to support’ are not always fun to look at, but the rest of the site makes up for that.

While I admit to owing a huge debt of gratitude to this edition for helping me get through a course covering the original Old English text, this site is also a great illustration of the importance that Beowulf still has. Not only doe the site contain a variety of aids in the study of Beowulf itself, but it also presents other Old English texts that might relate to the same ideas and traditions.

This link to other texts presents one of the main reasons why the Old English Beowulf is still relevant today. It contains some of the only information to have survived the centuries concerning history, culture, and mythology of the time in the English language (at the time). For this reason alone, the poem deserves respect, because it is one of the only texts we still have that illustrates a connection between the English language literary traditions and the epics of Greece, Rome, Scandinavia, and others. This heritage is important because it contains clues to the development of the English literary tradition from some of its earliest stages.

The question remains as to whether or not Beowulf is actually high art as a poem. This is a matter of interpretation, and requires research and study to answer. However, since the text exists in a single damaged copy, and is one of very few extant pieces of Old English poetry that we still have access to, Beowulf deserves attention. Whether we like it or not, it’s nearly all we have.

Beowulf has certainly gotten plenty of attention over the past few centuries. J.R.R. Tolkein was a scholar of the poem, and used sections of it as inspiration for parts of his LOTR series. Even today, the Internet contains many blogs and message boards dedicated to this poem. Just type ‘Beowulf’ into Google or any other search engine. The existence of these digital platforms allows people who may not be professional scholars to interact with some of the oldest known literature in the English language. For this reason alone, the Internet can be called a boon to literary scholarship, because the Internet allows people to experience and interact with texts and ideas they might not otherwise be interested in or have access to.

The quality of these interactions is another question entirely. Some blogs (and other digital sources) are written by trained academics, and others are not. I don not mean to imply that blogs and web sites composed by non-academics are not valuable, or that those by professional scholars must automatically be accepted as high quality. I do say that the author’s background should have an impact on how the content is approach, analyzed, and-or accepted (or not).  I would judge quality based on how the author of an opinion uses the actual text of the poem, and whether or not they account for previously published thoughts on the poem.  If an author cites the poem frequently and correctly, and especially if they cite authoritative scholarship (or even an authoritative edition of the poem), then I am more inclined to take their ideas seriously.  These are all techniques in which scholars are trained, and  a professional academic is more likely to use them.  That said, I don’t believe for a minute that a person must be trained scholar in order to be a thoughtful reader or interpreter.

Beowulf and its digital presence illustrates both the importance and the cautions of engaging with the digital humanities. While the Web allows for greater access, exploration, and discussion, the natures of said discussions and those who engage in them must be taken into account.  An astute observer might notice that I have yet to offer any opinion on the nature of Beowulf as a poem myself. I have no intention of doing so. While I do find the poem fascinating for historical and linguistic-literary reasons, I simply do not feel the need to engage the digital world on this matter. I plan on saving that for works and authors in which I have considerably more experience and expertise. First up, Chaucer. Coming soon.

Key Books for Most Any Medievalist

***This list is not exhaustive, nor is it permanent. It will be updated periodically. Let’s say it’s a permanent work in progress.***

Poetry:

The Owl and the Nightingale

Pearl

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

A Parallel Text Edition of Chaucer’s Minor Poems (there are also some Supplement volumes)

De Nuptiis Philologiae Et Mercurii (The Marriage of Philology and Mercury) by Martianus Capellanus

Anything in the TEAMS Middle English series

 

Prose or Poetry-for-not-strictly-poetic-reasons:

The Art of Preaching by Alanus d’Insulis

The Metalogicon by John of Salisbury

Ars Versificatoria: The Art of the Versemaker by Matthew of Vendôme

Anything in the TEAMS Middle English series

 

Anthologies:

Riverside Chaucer edited by Larry Benson

Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology edited by John Conlee

Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric: Language Arts and Literary Theory, AD 300-1475 edited by Rita Copeland and I. Sluiter

Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism, c. 1100-c. 1375: The Commentary-Tradition edited by A.J. Minnis, A. Brian Scott, and David Wallace

 

Scholarship:

European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages by Ernst Robert Curtius

Medieval Narrative: An Introduction by W.A. Davenport

The Life and Times of John Trevisa, Medieval Scholar by David Fowler

Style and Consciousness in Middle English Narrative by John Ganim

The Owl and the Nightingale: The Poem and its Critics by Kathryn Hume

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The History of Linguistics in Europe from Plato to 1600 by Vivienne Law

Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: an Institutional and Intellectual History by Gordon Leff

Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages by A.J. Minnis

Handbook of Medieval Studies :Terms, Methods, Trends. Ed. Albrecht Classen

Old English and Middle English Poetry by Derek Pearsall

Reading Middle English Literature by Thorlac Turville-Petre

 

Manuscript Studies:

Introduction to Manuscript Studies by Ray Clemens and Timothy Graham

A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 by Michelle Brown

Opening Up Middle English Manuscripts: Literary and Visual Approaches by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Maidie Hilmo, Linda Olson

Pause and Effect: An Introduction of the History of Punctuation in the West by M.B Parkes

Cambridge University and a few Colleges

Cambridge University Libraries, Special Collections

Links to searching the collection, brief subject guides, and ‘image of the month’.

Special Collections blog (CUL)

Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge

This page contains information on the library in general. Of particular interest is the Early Manuscripts link which contains access to the James catalogue, and names of other resources for using the collections.

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Special Collections at the Bodleian

This is the homepage for Special Collections (this designation includes manuscripts). Links include access to digitized versions of the Quarto and Summary Catalogues, the two main catalogues of the medieval manuscript collections.

Online Collections Catalogues

Many of the collections detailed here are well known. The information includes details about the collections in general as well as individual manuscripts.

Scribes and Paleography

Late Medieval English Scribes

This catalogue covers all the known hands in the manuscripts of major English authors of the late medieval period, including Gower, Chaucer, and Langland.

Introduction to Medieval Paleography (University of Leicester)

This site includes information for both medieval and early modern paleography. It also includes helpful bibliographical references.

Paleography basics from Stanford

A brief introduction to the discipline of paleography. This site is most useful for it’s list of basic resources, and includes some links.

Institute of Historical Research- London

This is an online tutorial for the basics of paleography. The paleography section is free, while others, including codicology, require a fee.

The National Archives tutorial

Another free tutorial in how to read manuscripts. This series requires some knowledge of medieval Latin.

Interactive Album Exercises

Another series of self-tutorials. Some of the text on this site is exclusively in French.

Medieval Studies University of British Columbia

In addition to links to paleographical resources, this site also includes links to other relevant topics.

 

 

General Literature

TEAMS Middle English Texts

This invaluable series of texts includes scholarly editions of the texts, notes, and commentary.

Luminarium

The medieval section of this site includes texts from major authors, biographical details (as known), and bibliographies of (and some links to) articles and other scholarship.

e-Chaucer

This site includes Chaucer’s texts, as well as other tools for study. Tools include a concordance, some ‘translations’, and a glossary of Chaucer’s Middle English.

GeoffreyChaucer.org

Although this site is no longer active, it contains an annotated bibliography of resources, many of which are now standard in the study of Chaucer and his contemporaries. The link goes directly to the editions-of-text page.

Manuscripts

Manuscripts Online

This site has a range of manuscript resources, information, and links that covers British manuscripts from roughly 1000-1500.

Manuscripts of the West Midlands

This catalogue of vernacular manuscript books of the English West Midlands, c. 1300-1475, includes images and information about individual manuscripts including contents and provenance.

A Digital Index of Middle English Verse

This is the single most useful too for a student of medieval poetry. It includes indices organized by poem, by manuscript, by location, and more.